Brazil’s University Affirmative Action Law

By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter

BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – The senate in Brazil last week passed a bill that requires prestigious federal universities to reserve fifty percent of their places for public school students, and increases the number of spaces allotted to black, mixed-race and indigenous students. It is expected that President Dilma Rousseff will ratify the law next week.

A July student rally at the Senate called for social dimension and expanded racial quotas in public universities, Brazil News

A student rally at the Senate last month called for social dimension and expanded racial quotas in public universities, photo by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr.

The eleven percent of students who attend Brazil’s expensive private high schools – who are mostly white – are generally much better prepared for the notoriously competitive federal university entrance exam or ‘vestibular.’

Public universities in Brazil are heavily subsidized and cost little to attend, while private universities are much more expensive and in general less academically respected.

The law states half of the places reserved will be allocated to students with family income equal to or less than 1.5 times minimum wage, and of these students, priority will be given to blacks, mixed-race and indigenous students, depending on the racial make-up of each Brazilian state, a document from the senate explained.

Globo calculated that the law would result in a 128 percent increase in the number of places in Rio de Janeiro’s four federal universities set aside for students of African or indigenous descent.

The U.S.-style affirmative action has been a controversial topic in Brazil, where critics argue that it is inappropriate, as racism was never institutionalized through means of segregation, and the majority of the country is mixed-race and do not necessarily define themselves as black or white.

Senator Aloysio Nunes, seen above, voted against the bill, arguing that the measure imposes a straitjacket on universities, photo by Antonio Cruz/ABr.

Senator Aloysio Nunes, who voted against the bill, said that the measure “imposes a straitjacket on universities,” and that entrance should be decided on merit alone, according to a Senate report.

However, there are clear social and class divisions along racial lines in Brazil, where more than 50 percent of Brazil’s 191 million inhabitants declare themselves to be of African origin, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).

The number of blacks in high-status professions remains disproportionately low, and as Larry Rohter, in his book Brazil on the Rise, explains, “Brazilians with black skin are far more likely to be killed by police than their white countrymen, earn less money, have shorter life expectancy, and have less educational opportunities than whites.”

David Santos, a Franciscan friar who heads Educafro, a lobby group fighting for the labor rights of blacks and indigenous people, told The Rio Times that the bill was “the culmination of a struggle of thirteen years, for the rights of blacks and the poor to have access to quality, free public universities.”

Mr. Santos answered critics of affirmative action by citing the success of students who he said had entered university because of existing quota programs, with scores on the vestibular exams that were as much as forty percent lower than those of non-quota applicants.

“Now, having had access to the same teachers, same laboratories, they are achieving grades that are greater than or equal to those of the children of the elites,” he said. “Clearly the vestibular system, as a meritocracy, is unfair.”

Gisele Canavezzi Goren, a Brazilian currently living in Portland, Oregon, said that while in an ideal world quotas would not exist, at present the public education system in Brazil is not adequately equipped to allow low-income students a fair chance to attend federal university.

“The quota system is only a palliative,” she said. “The government should invest in basic education of quality, with the most effective methodologies, career plans, incentives for teachers and fully equipped schools.”

Unfortunately there does exist racial prejudice in Brazil,” she said, adding that she had experienced prejudice firsthand in Brazil. “The image of the black person is associated with poverty, manual labor, ugliness, incompetence and criminality.”

19 Responses to "Brazil’s University Affirmative Action Law"

  1. Pingback: Brazil’s Senate Passes University Affirmative Action Law | Lucy Jordan

  2. Ana  August 15, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    The rich can pay for privat education and poor cannot

  3. Brian F. Gorman, PhD  August 15, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    This should be ENTIRELY a rich / poor issue (with “merit” considerations) and not a race or ethnicity issue! This “race thing” (quotas or affirmative action) has been a tremendous problem in the USA and is only recently become better with the termination of quotas and affirmative action at colleges and universities! The officials of Brasil have no idea how bad (both ethically and culturally) quotas and affirmative action are for the society!

  4. jack moon  August 15, 2012 at 7:30 PM

    i agree with with the young woman in portland. brasilian public schools are not prepared nor are they preparing students to enter into higher education and i doubt seriously that the majority of public school students can do as well as or better than students who have been educated in strong private schools.

    yes, those with more money receive better educations in expensive private schools, but, if the quality of education in the public sector were to be built up to be the equal of that in those private institutions, then you’d see the rich opting for public education, also.

  5. Vania Maciel  August 16, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    This is all very pretty but mainly designed as political campaign boost! I do not disagree with it though but there is no point in doing this if the level of basic education is not raised. What is the use of allowing people that had not had a proper education into university? This will further lower student education level on universities, as if this haven’t happened enough already. I just wonder if the same ministers would like to be examined by one of these future doctors.
    Another point will be there will be loads of students dropping out very soon, because most of these institutions are full-time and working on commercial hours, what poor student will manage to keep up with that without having to work for a living?
    There is no point in doing this if the people are not given the means to study from early age and throughout their lives, they need good education, plus grants to support them through.

    Education should be good and free for all and also the ways people are evaluated to get into universities should be changed somehow.

    Poverty and government neglect are the reasons why African descendants and indigenous people are not into federal universities, Brazilians have an old age tradition of regarding the poor as lesser people. It get worse on the onset of the dictator ship with all that wave of fierce capitalism, neo-liberalism etc. A country can not properly grow and have a future if all people are not considered and respected.

  6. JB  August 17, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    Nobel idea for sure. However, someone should have informed Dilma how well this policy worked out in the US. It resulted in unqualified and unprepared students entering university with a very high washout rate/low graduation numbers. Followed by universities dumbing down curiculum to “facilitate” the academic advancement of underprepared students. All in the name of diversity.

  7. john hesse  August 19, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    I must agree with Brian F.Gorman PhD “This should be ENTIRELY a rich / poor issue (with “merit” considerations) and not a race or ethnicity issue!”
    However Sir, Economics is integral with the plight of minorities and can’t be isolated from the big picture. Minorities (with exceptions of course) end up with the low paying jobs and fewer opportunities. It’s a “catch 22″ without a doubt. Viewing it from that perspective makes the case for affirmative action more viable and reasonable.
    Thanks For listening, John H.

  8. Helen  August 19, 2012 at 7:29 PM

    These measures will not help those who are not prepared to study at our federal universities. The solution would be to provide them with a good school system from elementary to high school. This way, no matter which ethnic group a person belongs to, he or she will be prepared to pass the tests to get into a good public university.

    Just allowing 50% of unprepared students to get into university will be a disaster. Our professors will not be able to handle this situation, and will have to dumb down their classes so that those students can keep up with the rest.

    Even though racism exists in Brazil, it is not the color os the skin that prevents anyone from getting into a good university. It is an inadequate public education before college that makes kids fail.

  9. PW  August 21, 2012 at 3:58 AM

    JB,

    How wrong you are…

  10. Pingback: Brazil: University Affirmative Action Bill Passes | The Burton Wire

  11. Camila  September 7, 2012 at 6:26 AM

    I’m completely against the quota system!
    I’m white but I come from a very poor family and that didn’t hold me back from being a good student and fighting for goals in life!

    I went to public school in RJ, working during the day and attending senior year at a night school. This way I could pay for tutoring classes and passed the vestibular for Economics in UFRJ.
    During university I did internships since the 2 semester so I could pay my transportation and food.

    I’ve worked for American and Swiss banks and I’m currently living in India with a Dutch company contract.
    I honestly think that is all about the values your parents teach you and how much you wanna fight for what you want in life!

    I’m 100% pro meritocracy! Quotas are a way of stimulating laziness and the brazilian mentality of “the government should do something for me”… People should work harder and do it for themselves instead of waiting for a “savior”.

  12. Rafael  September 12, 2012 at 12:41 AM

    Great words, Camila.

    I think the same!

  13. John Hesse  September 14, 2012 at 6:45 PM

    There should be some room for compromise here. Fifty percent does sound a little drastic. Consider if the allocated spaces were in the ten to fifteen percent range and only offered to the students who scored well on aptitude tests opposed to general knowledge testing. Aptitude tests measures ones ability to learn where general knowledge tests have been found to be biased in the U.S. Also conducting in depth interviews would highlight the students who do have a thirst for knowledge . That should alleviate the concerns about the drop out rate.

    After reading the following I am puzzled . The eleven percent of students who attend Brazil’s expensive private high schools – who are mostly white – are generally much better prepared for the notoriously competitive federal university entrance exam or ‘vestibular.’

    Public universities in Brazil are heavily subsidized and cost little to attend, while private universities are much more expensive and in general less academically respected.

    Why would the private high schools be held in such high regard but the private universities be less academically respected ?

    Thank, John H.

  14. JG  September 26, 2012 at 3:21 PM

    Interesting indeed! Won’t this just increase the competition among the private school students?

    Does anyone know the going rate for a vestibular prep course?

  15. John Hesse  September 26, 2012 at 5:54 PM

    JG, I’m not sure if your comment is based upon the Article or my comment above yours. Since I didn’t see an @ or direct reference I’ll conclude it was the former.
    The article is about creating more openings by mandating the “prestigious federal universities to reserve fifty percent of their places for public school students”. The fact that the eleven percent of students who attend Brazil’s expensive private high schools are generally much better prepared for the notoriously competitive federal university entrance exam or ‘vestibular’ would make one think the private high schools would become a crucial edge for the ones who can afford the high cost. If the requirements to become a student in these elite schools are knowledge,transcript based it would be logical to expect higher scores which would increase competition if enrollments increased. The alternatives would be expanding the schools to accomadate more students or just raise tuition fees. The wealthy will continue to pay for that advantage for their children.
    What still puzzles me is this law enables more opportunities to attend the four prestigious federal universities but “private universities are much more expensive and in general less academically respected”.
    Am I misreading this part because the four prestigious federal universities are different entities set apart from private universities ?
    As far as the going rate for a vestibular prep course I have no idea but if you are talking about private tutoring once again the wealthy prevail.

  16. Allan Jung  September 29, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    About of what Brian F. Gorman, PhD said, I don’t know why but I bet his P.hD is not in humanities, the quotas and affirmative actions are necessary in Brazil because differently from the US here the Black community is the majority and they are not represented in the Media, the government, the high education jobs, actually I have never seen a Black doctor and I’m thirty. So, if the greatest problem in Brazil is inequality and in a globalized world the only mean to compete is trough education nothing is fairer than allow the tiny majority of the population in Brazil to have a chance to get the best education available since as the name says it is free public education.

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