Accreditation in Brazil

Graduate and postgraduate qualifications earned abroad need to be validated in Brazil

Bruno Algarve

Studying a degree overseas is an attractive prospect that can provide access to international institutions, a global network of contacts, and the chance to learn or improve another language and experience a new culture, among other factors. Before enrolling in a university abroad, however, it should be noted that foreign qualifications are not automatically recognized in Brazil. Those who obtain an undergraduate degree, master’s, or PhD in another country must have their qualification validated when they return to Brazil.

Undergraduate degrees can only be validated by public universities accredited by the Ministry of Education (MEC) that offer a similar or equivalent course to the one studied abroad. Graduate diplomas can be recognized by private institutions, provided they are accredited by the MEC. In both cases, responsibility for the validation process falls to the accredited institutions, which define their own assessment requirements. “The exception is students who have studied medicine, who must take the National Exam for Validation of Medical Degrees [Revalida],” explains Ruane Santos, a spokesperson for the National Institute for Educational Studies and Research (INEP), the body responsible for the exam. Revalida assesses the skills and abilities of physicians trained abroad in five areas of practice: surgery, family and community medicine, pediatrics, gynecology/obstetrics, and internal medicine. It has been taken by 7,821 physicians since 2011—mostly Brazilians, Argentines, Bolivians, Colombians, and Peruvians—and 47.4% of them failed at least one part of the exam, which has two stages. In the first, candidates answer multiple-choice questions and write an essay. In the second, they perform tasks for an exam board that assesses their ability to practice medicine. Without passing the Revalida exam, physicians who studied medicine abroad are not allowed to practice in Brazil. For all other undergraduate courses, candidates are recommended to compare the curriculum of the foreign course with the content taught by the university at which they intend to apply for validation.

Launched in late 2016, the Carolina Bori website gathers data on all applications for the validation of undergraduate and graduate degrees issued abroad. There is no set standard or quantitative parameter of analysis for the approval of diplomas. Validation is usually based on an analysis of the merits and academic conditions of the foreign program, taking into account the differences between the educational systems, institutions, and courses offered in each country.

At least 10 documents are required, and accredited universities often provide a complete list of what is needed on their websites. When applying to validate a qualification, candidates must present a copy of their diploma and documentation attesting to the institution it was issued by, the duration and curriculum of the course, the bibliography, and their school transcript. The decision cannot take more than 180 days from the date the application is received by the accredited institution.

In addition to all the documents required, applicants pay a fee that can vary from R$400 to R$2,000. Since March, refugees living in the state of São Paulo have been exempt from paying diploma validation fees at state universities in São Paulo. Each application is analyzed by a committee of professors from the chosen university with a background in the field of ​​knowledge and the level of the qualification to be validated. If necessary, the institution may invite external specialists to sit on the committee. Additional information may also be requested, such as sworn translations, according to the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) academic director.

Bruno AlgarveOnce the analysis is complete, the committee can recognize the diploma as fully or partially equivalent. Full equivalence means the applicant does not have to take any additional courses or exams. But in the event of partial equivalence, validation of the diploma is subject to the candidate completing further studies or passing exams in Brazil. At the end of the process, a certificate of validation is attached to the original diploma, which must be presented whenever the candidate needs to prove their qualification in Brazil, such as when applying for a job.

For graduate degrees, the validation process is usually faster. Master’s and PhD courses are more specialized and usually involve a dissertation or thesis, which are much easier to evaluate. In order to recognize a graduate degree, universities must offer a program of equal or higher level in the same field, but they do not necessarily need to offer a similar program.

The process can be federal, valid for the whole country, or internal, accepted only at the university performing the validation, which is sometimes free. This was the case for archaeologist André Strauss. In 2016, he completed his PhD in archaeology at the University of Tübingen, Germany. The following year, in order to apply for a teaching position at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of the University of São Paulo (USP), he had to have his doctorate validated in Brazil. “Since I was applying for a position at USP specifically, I opted for internal validation, which is faster and free,” he says.

Architect Vanessa Grossman did the same after completing a master’s degree in the history of architecture at Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris, France, in 2008. At the time, she was thinking about studying a PhD at USP. “I chose to validate my degree at USP alone,” she says. The process took just four months.

Validation of undergraduate and graduate degrees does not produce a new diploma, nor does it imply that the course studied overseas is equal to the program offered by the accredited institution. It merely attests that the qualification earned by the candidate is equivalent to that offered by the same level of education in Brazil.