There is no unified academic credit system in Brazil. The regulating bodies of the Ministry of Education and associated legislation counts the hours of instruction. A full-time year of higher education takes between 800 and 1,200 instruction-hours in Brazil, which would be equivalent to 30 U.S. semester credit hours or 60 European ECTS credits.
- Europe: There is no formal treaty between the Brazilian Ministry of Education and the European Union‘s Bologna process. The following are rough comparisons:
- The European First Cycle would correspond to the Brazilian undergraduate degrees of bacharelado, licenciatura, and tecnologia. The Brazilian “Bachelor’s degree” takes 3 to 6 years to complete, which usually includes a written monograph or a final project; a European “Bachelor’s degree” can be completed in 3 years, after which many enroll in a 1 or 2-year-long “Master’s degree” in the Bologna process. When comparing the former European national systems to the Brazilian system, the Brazilian “Bachelor’s degree” would be equivalent to the old German Diploma, the Italian Laurea, or the French “Magistère”, “Mastère” or “Diplôme des Grandes Ecoles”.
- The Second Cycle in the Bologna process would correspond to the Brazilian Master’s degree, which usually takes 1 to 2 years to complete, or a “lato sensu” postgraduate degree, which requires the minimum of 360 hours of instruction.
- The Third Cycle in the Bologna process would be equivalent to the Brazilian Doctoral degree.
- United States:
- A Brazilian “Bachelor’s degree” could be compared to a four-year Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in the United States.
- Brazilian and U.S. Master’s and Doctoral degrees are roughly equivalent. Technologist degrees of 3 years of length could be also compared to undergraduate technology courses or with 3-year Bachelor’s degree, depending of the field of study.
- Technologist degrees allow the undergraduate to pursue Master’s and Doctoral programs.
In order to enter a university in Brazil, candidates must undergo a public open examination called the Vestibular, which usually lasts between 1 and 5 days, and takes place once a year. Some universities may run the Vestibular twice a year. Offering exams that are more frequent is popular among private universities, while public universities usually run the Vestibular only once a year (in November, December, or January). The Vestibular can be compared to the SAT or ACT tests in the U.S.
Universities offer a limited number of places, and the best-qualified candidates are selected for entrance. The Vestibular includes many subjects offered in high school, such as Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Geography, Literature, Portuguese language, and a foreign language (usually the candidate can choose between English, Spanish, or French). Since public universities are free of charge and there are a limited number of open slots, there is high competition with the Vestibular. There are nearly 10 candidates for every place in public universities; in private universities the ratio is less than two-to-one (see INEP, 2000 - 2009).
Recently, some universities in Brazil began accepting students according to their high school performance and as a result, a new entrance examination was designed by the Ministry of Education known as ENEM (Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio). ENEM has now been adopted by most public universities. In the future, both ENEM and the “Vestibular” will co-exist.