Public and private universities

Public universities usually offer the best quality education, and therefore competition during the Vestibular is fierce. Public universities usually run courses all-day, while private for-profit universities offer a mix of all-day long and night-only courses. The latter is increasingly popular for working adults to complete Higher Education degrees in Brazil. Recently, some public universities have introduced some night-only courses in combination with day-courses. Although public universities offer the best quality education and conduct research, there are continuous complaints from these institutions about being underfunded. Private universities tend to be smaller when compared to public universities, but often have more modern infrastructures and amenities (e.g., buildings and campuses).

The 1996 law "Foundations and Guidelines for National Education" (lei 9.394) opened the doors for many private universities to begin offering degrees on a mass scale. As a result, growth within the private Higher Education sector has provided more opportunities for students country-wide. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of available openings in public universities rose 60 percent. During this same period, the number of available openings in private sector institutions rose 185 percent (see INEP, 2000 and 2009). In 2009, there were 2,069 private Higher Education institutions compared to 1,004 private institutions in 2000 (see INEP, 2000 and 2009). The 15 largest companies in 2009 that ran private universities represented 27 percent of the total market, with yearly profits above 21 percent; and the country's private education sector became the tenth largest sector in the Brazilian economy, accounting for R$25 billion per year.

There are currently more than 2,600 public and private universities distributed throughout Brazil, a number that is growing quickly.

Elizabeth Redden in June 2015 reports that Professor Dante J. Salto has argued in the journal International Higher Education that:

Brazil's for-profit colleges enroll about a third of all students in higher education. The for-profit sector, which predominantly enrolls students in social science, business, law, education and health care-related fields, absorbs demand that the public higher education system lacks the capacity to meet, and is seen as an important player in helping Brazil move toward its policy goal of dramatically increasing higher education participation rates. The proportion of Brazilian 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in higher education (the country's net enrollment rate) is only in the teens, while the gross enrollment rate, which takes into account students of all ages, stands at around 30 percent.