History of UniRede
UniRede began as an inter-university consortium created in December 1999 under the name of Virtual Public University of Brazil. Its mission statement was to campaign for state policy aimed at democratizing access to free and quality public higher education; collaborative processes in the production of teaching materials; and in the national offering of undergraduate and graduate courses. The first paragraph of the first document, created at the time of its inception, follows:
“The representatives of the 18 universities present at the 1st Meeting of the Virtual Public University of Brazil, on the 2nd and 3rd of December in Brasília, University of Brasília (UnB), are conscious that it is time for the public higher education system to occupy and expand its space, leaving for a bold, innovative, responsible and concrete action, in response to inequalities and injustices in the field of higher education.”
A consortium of 82 public higher education institutions and 7 regional consortia came together, with the key objective of democratizing access to quality education through the provision of distance courses at undergraduate, graduate, and extension levels, in the form of free formal and continued education.
From the beginning, UniRede has counted on the support of the Education Commission/Parliamentary Front for Distance Education of the Federal Chamber under Congressman Werner Wanderer of Paraná, from the Ministries of Education and Culture (MEC) and Science and Technology (MCT), and from bodies such as the Funding Agency of Studies and Projects (FINEP) and, especially, from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq)/Ministry of Science and Technology that provided DTI scholarships, to support the development of UniRede on its campuses.
There is no doubt that the consortium innovated, broke barriers and fought considerable resistance, mainly due to preconceptions and private interests, through the endeavors and institutional support of the rectors and directors of affiliated or partnered public institutions, contributing to the development of the recent history of Distance Education in the country. One of the important roles of UniRede’s representatives was the proposition of public policies, founded on studies carried out and presented to the Ministry of Education and which supported the emergence of programmes that today are implemented throughout the country, such as Prolicenciatura 1 & 2, and the very Open University of Brazil (UAB) itself, whose study and structural conception counted on the active participation of representatives from UniRede’s Managing Committee and Board of Representatives.
Another, lesser important role, was the formation of partnerships, mainly with SEED-MEC, CEDERJ and UnB, to hold the Brazilian Meeting of Distance Higher Education (ESUD), already in its 4th edition, which reafirms its success every year by publicizing to Brazil what has been done to advance Distance Education in the public higher education system.
After five years of participating in a rich process of democratic and cooperative construction, it has been assessed that UniRede continues to play an important role in consolidating three pillars that could contribute in guaranteeing the academic quality of Distance Education programmes, and thus, through maintaining a system of networks, helps in the process of consolidating public policies for quality Distance Education throughout the entire Brazilian public system:
1) Evaluation and monitoring of Distance Education processes and projects, together with the MEC;
2) Organization of the UniRede Association as a scientific society;
3) Cooperation and inter-institutional dialogue aimed at contributing to public policies and the philosophy of networking.
INITIAL MANAGEMENT STRUCTURE:
The Managing Committee was composed of 7 members of public HEIs, one per geographic region of the country, the northeast being divided into Eastern Northeast, Western Northeast, North, Central West, Southeast 1, Southeast 2 and South. One of its functions was to appoint the president and vice president. It was an executive body.
The Board of Representatives constituted of a representative appointed by the general manager of the consortium member institution and who had, among other functions, to elect the Managing Committee. It was a forum for deliberation.
The Advisory Board which seats members of the Chamber of Representatives (Parliamentary Front for Distance Education) from the MEC, MCT, UNESCO, RNp, CNPq and CAPES. With an advisory function, as the name suggests, and deliberates with the institutions that supported UniRede, as collaborators and partners.
In addition to the Managing Committee and the aforementioned boards, support hubs were created, which in January 2002 were transformed into advisory bodies for assessment at UFBA, pedagogical guidance at UFMT, management at UnB, and communication at UFRJ. For strategic and technical reasons, these advisory bodies were located in different regions/partner institutions. These were abolished in 2005 with the discontinuation of the DTI-CNPq grants.
The Managing Committee met, ideally, when there was a need for discussion with the ministries, federal authorities and the legislative branch, which has supported UniRede since its creation; and the Board of Representatives convene once a semester when there are relevant matters at hand.
In summary, it can be said that UniRede was essentially established as a representative for the actions implemented by the consortium member universities with the aim of facilitating the cooperative process in the production of didactic materials; innovating the courses’ political-pedagogical projects; democratizing access to public higher education and continued education; innovatation in terms of material production; reducing regional and interinstitutional distances; creating an open space conducive to dialogue and free cooperation that was guided by the free provision of produced didactic materials, programmes and multimedia resources.
Finally, it is important to emphasize that the main focus of the proposal was to build a public network, centered principaly on the training of teachers in the public school system, which it should be said, is a social function of both federal and state universities.