“The hysteria of a little flu”: Effects of COVID-19 on HEIs in Brazil

Katucha Bento*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay will look at the key challenges public Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) faced in Brazil during the COVID-19 lockdown. The pandemic led universities to close their campuses and adopt an online interface for academic activities. However, many of these institutions do not have the technological infrastructure for such, nor did the staff and students who suffered further social exclusions. The president of Brazil referred to the pandemic as a “little flue” and later on responded to measures adopting the lockdown as a “hysteric” act that “will lead to an economic crash”. Considering the lack of support from the government and the process of dismantling resources for public HE since the beginning of the new presidency elected in 2018, the COVID-19 lockdown quickly revealed the institutional racism, elitism and ableism evident in this administration’s agenda. The consequence of the agenda is the cuts on research funds and lack of infrastructure to provide online classes, as examples of the severe policies that promote the erasure of marginalised groups. Such policies follow Sylvia Wynter’s “Argument”, revealing a code of symbolic life and death of how human order organises itself through the coloniality of power/being. In order to show how such symbolic code is engraved in the Brazilian educational system, this study explores narratives of staff and students from three universities per region of Brazil to identify how the colonial legacies are correlated with postulates of power in the Brazilian HEIs setting during the pandemic. The paper discusses the challenges experienced while keeping the HE sector active during a pandemic that the government has belittled. The conclusions advocate for organised strategies at the union and social movements level to dismantle the colonial occupation put in place in the foundation of the HEIs and reinforced by the current necropolitical administration.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalHigher Education
Early online date22 Jul 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Jul 2022


  • institutional negligence
  • margin
  • necropolitics
  • public Brazilian HEIs
  • colonial legacy


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