University of São Paulo - Brazil

A public, free, socially democratic university open to talent

President Lula in our official ceremony. Photo: Ricardo Stuckert.

As we celebrate the 90 years of our University of São Paulo, in addition to joy, legitimate pride, and confidence in the transformative power of knowledge, we are invited to analyze our past and contemplate our future. The greatness of USP arises from the excellent work of generations that researched, studied, taught, and disseminated knowledge for the progress of our country.

The university is the result of the free thought that existed in our state in the late 1920s and early 1930s, especially considering the political and social changes after the defeat of São Paulo in the constitutionalist revolution.

It was in the editorial office of the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, under the leadership of Júlio de Mesquita Filho and Fernando de Azevedo, that the idea took shape. What was at stake were the destinies of the Republic and democracy. These important figures, in partnership with state governors and the group of Education Reformers, authors of the Manifesto of the Pioneers of New Education in 1932, mobilized powerful energies.

Were there class interests present in those early debates? Certainly. There are class interests in all movements in all parts of social life, and that moment was no exception.

The motto that gives meaning to the university’s coat of arms – “Vencerás pela Ciência” (You will conquer through Science) – encapsulates the web of meanings present in the minds of its founders. In other words, knowledge is a lasting weapon resistant to momentary circumstances.

Indeed, USP was an intelligent response to the vacuum left by the political crisis, instituting a model of a public, free, socially democratic university open to talent.

USP was conceived as a modern institution, grounded in the indivisible relationship between teaching, research, and extension. It pulsated with a vision of a country anchored in science, reason, and the value of freedom, a structured model guided by scientific principles and an integrated vision of intellectual life.

The essence of what was conceived at that time survived and grew in the following decades, eventually becoming what we celebrate on this date.

For USP to be possible, a harmony between the past and the future was woven. USP was born from the aggregation of six existing schools: the Faculty of Law, our oldest unit; the Polytechnic School; the Faculty of Medicine; the Faculty of Pharmacy and Dentistry; the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine; and the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture.

But the University also emerged from a modern vision of the future, manifested in the creation of the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences, and Letters, a center for advanced studies designed to conduct disinterested science, seeking the universality of knowledge, and coordinating and integrating the activities of the other schools.

The USP project was innovative, ambitious, fully realized in a short period, a revelation of an unusual architecture when considering the conditions of the country at that time.

USP came to life by synchronizing with São Paulo’s upward movement and became part of the intensification of changes occurring in all spheres, revealing the link between the institution and society.

The creation of the São Paulo Research Foundation – Fapesp – in the late 1940s, formalized in 1960 and consolidated in 1962, gave rise to a virtuous partnership between the two institutions, which fed off each other. Thus, a relationship that strengthened and became central to the differentiation of the scientific and cultural system of São Paulo was born.

Outside São Paulo, at the federal level, the fundamental contribution of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development – CNPq, created in 1951, and the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel – Capes, in the same year, should be emphasized. These were important agencies supporting and promoting research and education, fundamental for the development of postgraduate studies in Brazilian universities.

Important projects also emerged in São Paulo, with the creation of sister university institutions such as the University of Campinas – Unicamp, in 1966, and the São Paulo State University – Unesp, in 1976, both contributing significantly to Brazilian scientific production, honoring our educational system.

USP, Unicamp, and Unesp have received full support from the leaders of the State of São Paulo, both the executive and legislative branches, whose persistence over time and respect for financial and academic autonomy guarantee expansion, improvement, long-term planning, and institutional renewal. The three universities have lived up to this support and stand out for combining academic and research excellence.

Also fundamental was the expansion of USP to other cities in the state. Apart from the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture, established in Piracicaba and pre-existing to the foundation of USP, faculties were erected in other municipalities, forming true university towns.

The creation of the Ribeirão Preto Medical School, the São Carlos School of Engineering, and the Bauru School of Dentistry in the 1950s, and new units in subsequent years, symbolized the expansion towards emerging centers. Moreover, they signaled the concern to facilitate access to higher education for students who would have difficulties relocating to the capital.

The seven USP campuses established in Bauru, Lorena, Piracicaba, Pirassununga, Ribeirão Preto, Santos, and São Carlos are vectors of regional development within the state. The creation of the School of Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, EACH, in 2005, in the eastern part of the capital, in a socially vulnerable region, followed the democratic spirit present in the founders’ ideals.

The map of economic and social development in the State of São Paulo strongly overlaps with the campuses of the aforementioned state universities and federal institutions such as Unifesp, UFSCar, and UFABC.

USP has addressed the demands arising in the Brazilian social scene, as evidenced by the development of affirmative and inclusive policies that place it at the forefront of Brazilian and global universities. Initiatives to facilitate the access of students from public schools and popular social strata are innovative, as well as the diversity and scope of the policies built.

Our excellence has increased with these initiatives, our academic production has expanded in number and quality, and we have reached unprecedented positions of prominence in national and international rankings. In 2023, we were ranked by QS as the 85th university in the world and the first in Ibero-America. It was the first time in history that Brazil had a university among the top 100 in the world.

We are forming leaders and producing research with excellence, enriched by diversity.

Throughout our history, we have faced moments of difficulty. This University confronted the arbitrariness of the authoritarian regime installed in 1964, which retired notable intellectual and scientific leaders. Despite being severely affected, USP had the strength to resist and preserve its original foundations.

Recently, we also faced the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented university life for more than two years, forcing USP to reinvent itself to maintain its activities.

Reaffirming its ideals, the university needs to be continuously updated to respond to society’s problems, seeking new solutions.

For this, currently, USP has prioritized people; the qualification of its research and the transfer of this knowledge to society; the enhancement of internationalization on our campuses; sustainable development; and the modernization of the teaching-learning process.

Regarding people, we need to improve student retention policies and strengthen the sense of belonging to the university. The entry of students must be diverse, considering the economic and ethnic-racial conditions of our society.

But, at the time of leaving the university, these differences must already be overcome, and all students must be equal in their professional capacities and in their excellent training, aligning their future prospects and being willing to implement changes in society.

Current social conditions also impose on us the concern for the mental health of our students, technical and administrative staff, and our professors.

Regarding the qualification of research and the transfer of knowledge, USP has created interunit and multidisciplinary Research Centers in areas of relevant topics, such as precision oncology, artificial intelligence, sustainable tropical agriculture, carbon fixation by agriculture, sustainable Amazon, study of Brazilian institutions, and control of greenhouse gases, as well as institutionalizing 11 Fapesp Cepids, giving more autonomy to research groups.

USP produces about 20% of Brazil’s scientific production, and the goal is to increasingly qualify this research to increase its social impact.

This knowledge needs to be transferred to society through innovation, understood as a tool to induce social changes, to improve public policies, to transfer technology to the private sector, and to innovate in arts and culture.

For this project, we need the collaboration of various actors beyond the University: the government, the private sector, society, and the environment. We are seeking spaces at USP for these interactions to be accelerated. At a time when São Paulo and Brazil are discussing industrial models, we are ready to collaborate.

Internationalization is a tradition at the University, and many activities have already been developed and will be maintained. But now, this internationalization enters a new phase, with the implementation of international laboratories on our campuses.

We already have two French laboratories, Institut Pasteur and CNRS, which have started their activities, and we are negotiating with two German institutes and one English institute, in addition to the creation of a USP-China center to accommodate collaborations with universities and research institutes in that country.

These actions will allow our university community to experience the international academic environment in all its dimensions.

As for sustainable development, this theme must be a priority for society as a whole, and we believe that universities must be important agents in seeking solutions for the health of the planet.

We are studying and collaborating on the identification of sustainable energies to achieve energy transition, the conservation of water and oceans, the destination of solid waste, and new methodologies for carbon fixation. Our campuses must be models for society.

Sustainable development is an opportunity for Brazil to be a world leader and create a new economic model to improve the living conditions of the population. We cannot miss this opportunity.

The improvement of our teaching method is also a priority. Our teaching model is undergoing a significant reorganization. USP schools and faculties are reviewing their curricular matrices and presenting projects to ensure that teaching aligns with the needs of society.

We must prepare young people for professions that do not yet exist, which increasingly require new skills such as communication and entrepreneurship, and adaptability throughout their professional lives. It is not a simple task, but there is a great desire in the community to implement these changes.

Over its ninety years, USP has developed in line with the profound transformations that have occurred in São Paulo, Brazil, and the global scene.

On this date, as we exalt USP, we must value our public character. The public and free university is born from the indistinct effort of everyone and converges to meet the aspirations of communities and the rights and needs of each person.

We exist to dignify our democracy, our civilizational standard, to honor reason, and to contribute to the development of São Paulo and Brazil. USP is synonymous with generosity and sharing.

May another 90 years come. Long live USP!

(Speech delivered by the rector at the opening ceremony of the celebrations for the 90 years of USP, on January 25, 2024)