Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the challenger of the incumbent, is a household name to some Brazilians – and an infamous one to others.
After being in power for two terms from 2003 and 2010, Lula was caught up in a corruption scandal cleanup better known as Lava Jato – car wash – which affected higher-ups across the country.
After a brief prison sentence in 2019 on corruption charges, Lula was freed – and after relentless appeals and trials on the matter, it was decided that he would be allowed to run for president as he wished in the upcoming 2022 election.
Lula’s previous eight years in power was largely a good thing for Brazil’s education system – especially in terms of providing more opportunities for the working class.
“That’s when my company had maybe the fastest growing period was during Lula’s first mandate because we used to have only plans from a very top class state level,” says Antonio Bacelar, a board member of BELTA and director of viamundo.
Despite advertisements on viamundo’s website promoting studying in Brazil, he currently has hundreds of students from the country studying instead around the world – especially in the UK, US and Canada.
“When Lula was president, we had like the middle class come in, people who are like waitresses being able to buy a program in Dublin or work, like truck drivers being able to buy a program in England,” he recalls.
“If Bolsonaro was re-elected, I think the profile of our clients would be very different”
Bolsonaro’s election in 2019 signalled a firm rejection of the left, and businesses began seeing more upper class people wanting to send their children on study programs and to international schools, Bacelar says.
“We have had a larger number of people flying with business very much concentrated on elite level clients. Certainly it’s very much focused on the A classes – and B-plus,” he says – referring to the class signalling in Brazil.
“If Bolsonaro was re-elected, I think the profile of our clients would be very different,” he added.
However, a second term wasn’t to be – Lula took Bolsonaro into a runoff election on October 30, and Lula narrowly clinched victory.
With Lula returning to office – and his party, the Worker’s Party (PT) – he promised to govern for “all Brazilian” people.
“Not only those who voted for me… there are not two Brazils. We are a single country, a single people and a great nation,” he declared in his victory speech.
PT, with Dilma Rousseff at the helm, was in power when Brazil introduced one of its most famous educational initiatives in 2011 – Ciências Sem Fronteiras (which was subsequently renamed Brasil Sem Fronteiras) – which sent over 100,000 students from Brazil to study abroad.
Students were sponsored by scholarships issued by the department of education, and it flourished until late 2015 when it was “effectively suspended” – likely down to the impending impeachment issues surrounding Rousseff, which ended in her being ousted in late 2016.
Despite a promise of 100,000 more students being sent abroad to study by 2018, the program was cancelled in April 2017.
Bolsonaro’s consistent aims at public universities – many of which were set up during Lula’s tenure – instilled uncertainty in the country’s higher education sector. Just two days before the runoff election, he even announced another funding freeze.
Despite Lula’s succession, therein lies the uncertainty that comes with yet another change of government for many businesses in the sector.
“I would say that Lula is prepared to spend more money on education,” Victor Hugo Baseggio, co-founder of CI Brazil, tells The PIE News.
“But my feeling is that [PT] are not very careful about checking the results of the investments,” he says, referring to the BSF initiative.
“They are more generous, but I wouldn’t assume completely that their results are phenomenal,” he concluded.
With so many problems facing Brazilians at home, it is almost impossible to tell what Lula may do in terms of international education; Baseggio tells The PIE that he has learned from sources in government he is “almost certain” BSF will not be re-launched.
Another fear, Bacelar says, is that businesses will see less investment faced with a government that may tax them more; a similar one to when Lula was first elected.
“It’s possibly one of the highest rates I’ve ever seen of Brazilians willing to leave”
“Most people from my industry have the same fear, you know, that this is not going to be good for the business.
“But since Bolsonaro lost the election, there is a big portion of the elite coming to us asking for programs to send their kids abroad because they think the country has no future. So somehow we profit from it,” Bacelar explains.
The bitterness is not over – Bolsonaro’s supporters have only recently been told by the outgoing president to stand down, and baseless talk of fraud echoing Donald Trump’s election loss meltdowns are billowing across the country.
“Since we regained democracy 40 years ago in Brazil, we have had governments from the left, from the right and from the centre.
“The changes, in honesty, have not been made for the people that need it most – that’s the way the system is. I think the wealth share is better perhaps in Scandinavia, maybe, or the Netherlands – but I think that liberal policies in general have not created an environment for a fairer society [in Brazil],’ Baseggio explained.
Like Bacelar, Baseggio told The PIE that he’s seeing a mass exodus possibly on the horizon.
“76% of the young population wants to go out of the cities here; they want to leave Brazil. We’ve been in this business for 34 years, and I think it’s possibly one of the highest rates I’ve ever seen of Brazilians willing to leave,” he added.