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Geography of Regional Imbalance: The Role of Higher Education Institutions in Brazil


  • Mauricio Serra


  • Louise Kempton


  • Paul Vallance
  • Ana Paula Bastos
  • Cassio Rolim



By looking at the official data, it is impossible not to notice that Brazil has undergone profound social and economic transformation. In fact, Brazil's GDP grew approximately 157 times since the early twentieth century to the present day, being this economic performance responsible for placing the country as an important player in South America and in the world as well. This deep transformation also affected the Brazilian higher education system, which has experienced considerable changes over the last decades, most of them driven by two interrelated factors: (a) an intense process of globalization that offers new opportunities as well as imposes new demands for universities; and (b) the perception ? largely influenced by the vast literature on Regional Innovation Systems - that regions are important actors in the development process insofar as they can meet their own and national development goals by supporting innovation, contributing to an increase in productivity as well as in living standards. Despite its successful economic trajectory, Brazil continues to be a highly unequal country in social and economic terms. This inequality can be seen not only within the regions, but principally among them. In this sense, the North region is the poorest Brazilian region, whose share of Brazil?s GDP is very low (only 5.4% in 2013) and whose social indicators are far below the national average. However, it is worth noting that this region has a tremendous potential insofar as it is the country's largest region (it covers roughly 60% of the national territory, comprising Amazonia with its extraordinary biodiversity and natural wealth), its growth rates has been higher than the national average over the last three decades, and has important universities and research institutions. On the other hand, the Southeast is the country?s richest and most dynamic region, its share of Brazil?s GDP is very high (55.4% in 2013), its social indicators are far above the Brazilian average, and its universities are among the highest quality in Brazil and South America as well. This paper focuses on two contrasting Brazilian regions, not only in social and economic terms, but also in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship: the state of Para in the northern region, and the state of São Paulo in the southeastern region. Based on regional innovation system, regional triple helix spaces and entrepreneurial region concepts and also on the recent growing body of literature on the pivotal role of universities in regional development process, this paper can shed light on how universities operate in different contexts within a peripheral country, what kind of interaction they have with the regional actors, to what extent the surrounding environment influences their performance, and what has been their role in the developmental trajectory of their regions.

Suggested Citation

  • Mauricio Serra & Louise Kempton & Paul Vallance & Ana Paula Bastos & Cassio Rolim, 2015. "Geography of Regional Imbalance: The Role of Higher Education Institutions in Brazil," ERSA conference papers ersa15p996, European Regional Science Association.
  • Handle: RePEc:wiw:wiwrsa:ersa15p996

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    regional imbalance; higher education institutions; Brazil;

    JEL classification:

    • R1 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics

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