Investigating the Structure of the Open University of Brazil

Tel Amiel

Maria Renata da Cruz Duran
UEL, Brazil

Erika Moreira Martins

Celso Costa
Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil

Sandra R. H. Mariano
Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil

Isabella Sacramento
Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil


This study aims to provide a broad overview of a research program focused on two important aspects of the Open University of Brazil system (UAB; Universidade Aberta do Brazil): the universities centres (usually termed NEADs) and the municipal support centres (pólos). Our initial research, from 2011-2012, focused on describing and typifying the municipal centres, which form the capillarity of the UAB system. To date, over 600 such centres exist (2012 data; a map can be seen here During a second, ongoing phase, we aim to describe and typify the NEADs. UAB currently involves 103 institutions of higher education from around Brazil. Each of these institutions has a coordination centre dedicated to be the interface between the federal government, higher education institutions and the municipal centres. They are responsible for creating, conducting, evaluating and promoting the courses, which are offered, at a distance, to the municipal centres, sometimes in multiple locations around the country simultaneously.In our municipal centre study, 68 centre coordinators from the northern, north-eastern and southern regional centres were interviewed, participated in cross-centre visits, and engaged in online forums. Based on our analysis, we identified three types of municipal centres. First, centres with a large number of openings. These centres are situated near capitals, in cities with 70-150 thousand inhabitants and have an emphasis on continued education. Second, in cities of 20-30 thousand inhabitants, offering a mix of initial and continued education courses. Third, the centres are located in towns that are more distant, approximately 310 kilometres from the capital of their states, with about 10 thousand inhabitants, offering between 5 to 10 courses, focused on initial training. Curiously, the third type of centre meets the highest proportion of student to inhabitants in the cities/regions where they are located. With these data, we were able to begin to provide insight into an under-studied and often criticized aspect of the UAB system.The investigation into the NEADs begin late 2011 and is still ongoing, using visits and semi-structured protocol for an interview/focus group, aimed at creating a typology of and identifying relevant questions related to the production, access and dissemination of educational resources within UAB from the perspective of the higher education institutions, their NEADs, and their relationship to the municipal centres. In the paper, we highlighted the experience of three institutions in Brazil. The first functions in a decentralized fashion, whereby each academic unit preserves its autonomy in the development of activities within distance education. Each academic unit promotes graduate, undergraduate and extension courses through special projects, with the support of the SEAD, which functions as a secretariat or office, articulating projects approved by the collegiate faculty in each unit. It has no collegiate body of its own, constituting a small working group, under the auspices of the university administration (reitoria). The second university has a long-term experience with distance education, and in 2009 opened the AEDI, an assessoria (Office for Distance Education Support, in free translation) connected directly to the rector’s office. In a Brazilian university, an assessoria is generally a place with bureaucratic flexibility, as its members can be nominated directly by the rector of the university and the activities can be demanded of the academic units as a demand from the rectory, without the demand for a collegiate decision in each unit, and only by the highest university body to which it is connected. A third university created its NEAD in the 1990’s (pre-UAB) in order to target the demand for teachers at the initial levels of schooling. Contrary to the other two examples, in this university, NEADs were created, over time and through local demand, in each academic unit. It is currently located within the School of Education. Since 2013, a central Office for Education Mediated by Information and Communication Technologies was established to help direct, foment and coordinate a university-level effort to integrate educational technologies. These include, but are not exclusive to UAB-related initiatives. This model demonstrates the possibilities of more bottom-up and decentralized (but coordinated) approach to the integration of NEADs within the university system.The initial data presented here aimed at demonstrating a multifaceted research project that is being conducted to investigate the Open University of Brazil. As a large, national and cooperative project, the UAB has been able, in relatively little time, to expand the outreach of distance education, particularly to in-service teachers, throughout Brazil through a publicly funded project. This research points to a non-homogeneous scenario, as municipalities and universities create unique solutions to the implementation of the UAB system. Further investigations will provide insights in the relationship between the centres and the NEADs, as well as the production, circulation and use of educational resources in the UAB system.

Full Text:



  • There are currently no refbacks.