RIO DE JANEIRO -- Education officials in Brazil's far-right government say they are slashing university funding 30%, a move at least partly motivated by complaints about partisan activities on campus.
Education Minister Abraham Weintraub first told the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo on Tuesday that he had cut the budget of three federal universities — Brasilia, Bahia and Fluminense — because of their ideological stance and poor performance.
Weintraub complained about political events, partisan demonstrations and other events that he said are inappropriate for a university, though he did not give specific examples, according to the newspaper.
"The university must have a surplus of money to be making such a mess and organizing ridiculous events," Weintraub said. "I can cut and, unfortunately, need to cut from somewhere," he added, saying it was part of a broader administration effort to reduce public spending.
University staff and education experts denounced the ideological nature of the decision. Some said the move was unconstitutional.
Later in the day, Arnaldo Barbosa de Lima Junior, the ministry's chief of higher education, told Globo TV that the budget cuts would actually be made equally across all universities and institutes linked to the ministry. He also said the ministry was looking into establishing "parameters" that would allow some universities to get smaller budget cuts.
The move could affect nearly 300 public universities, faculties and other educational institutes, according to a 2017 higher education census.
University officials said the cuts would likely affect scholarships, utility services and maintenance.
The Fluminense Federal University said the funding move, if confirmed, "will have serious consequences for the full functioning of the university".
All three institutions named by Weintraub are among Brazil's top 20 universities, according to various listings, including the Times Higher Education's World University Ranking.
This is not the first time that the ministry's officials have taken aim at Brazil's public education sector, which the new administration believes to be ridden with "Marxist ideology."
President Jair Bolsonaro recently tweeted that funding for sociology and philosophy studies could be eliminated.
In a note sent to The Associated Press on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Education Ministry said it was studying various criteria "such as the academic performance of universities and the impact of courses offered in the labor market."
During the campaign, Bolsonaro said he wanted to "enter the Education Ministry with a flamethrower to remove Paulo Freire," referring to the late Brazilian educator whose ideas — derided by critics as Marxist — had worldwide influence.