Friday, August 31, 2012

Affirmative Action Law for Universities in Brazil

Activists from Educafro chained themselves to the ministry in Brasilia
Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, signed the law that will guarantee 50% of all places in public universities to students from public schools, thus making access to the best universities easier for students with a poverty background. The law also states that university students with African or indigenous roots should get preferential access to public universities.

In Brazil public universities, which are nearly free, are the best universities while private universities generally have a lower reputation. The opposite is true in primary and secondary education. While public schools are free, they perform badly. In addition, expensive private schools prepare their students better for university. Learners from public schools generally don’t succeed for the entrance exam of public universities (O Vestibular). These universities are therefore only reachable for students who went to expensive private schools.

Critics don’t think it’s a good idea to install racial quotas for positive discrimination in public universities. The problem should be tackled at its root, this means making public schools better rather than accepting lower performing students in universities.

But there are also Brazilians who think this is a much needed initiative. Only one senator voted against the law. Indeed, Black Brazilians do suffer discrimination. Even in the government there are nearly no Afro-Brazilians while Brazil has the highest portion of people of African descent outside Africa. In a perfect world affirmative action wouldn’t be needed, but at least for a limited period of time there should be initiatives that try to compensate the wrongs from the past.

But critics are afraid that access to public university will not be based on merit but on race and social background. A higher score on the entrance exams will not be a guarantee for access to the good public universities, if coming from a private school. More and more hard working lower middle class Brazilians, spend a fortune to have their children studying in private schools. They consider this the high price to pay to get them in the best universities of the country. Will they be excluded if white, although poor?

Question are raised on how the selection based on race will take place. At the University of Brasilia they installed a commission that decides whether a student is black or not. Some call it a ‘racial court’ that will instigate racism rather than stop it. Roberta Kaufman, a lawyer, thinks that affirmative action based on income would be much better rather than on school background and race. Furthermore, many Brazilian families are multiracial. One person can be considered white while her brother or sister would be perceived as Afro-Brazilian.

Finally, some think this decision will directly affect the quality of the public universities. Leandro Tessler, institutional relations coordinator at the University of Campinas. told the NY Times that “you don’t create capable and creative people by decree”.

More info:
NY Times
Rio Times


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. As a mixed-race brazilian I have to say that I'm totally against this law, as it was mentioned in the article the problem of the educational situation in Brazil is rooted in it's basic education. Public schools provide a very bad quality of education, this should be changed first. What will happen with quotas designations is the same that already happen at public schools, in public schools the government obligate schools to pass all students, even if the student clearly doesn't have yet the qualification to go to the next grade, the result is that you can see several students in the last grade that don't even know how to read and write in a decent way.

    This ''forced entrance'' of the government by the middle-way instead of actually focus on the basics to make every brazilian, independent of race or ethnic origin, equal regarding education is just dooming the quality of our educational institutions, and also hurting the meritocracy of our society and our national identity (after all 80% of all brazilians have some kind of mixed white, black, indian and even east-asian ancestry, how you're gonna be able to define who is black or indian and who isn't with these patterns?). I'm in favor of equality for all, after all my country is a melting pot of many different races, and educational opportunities for everybody on a equal way, but not like this.

    BTW, I just want to highlight two mistakes on the article. First is not truth that there is no Afro-Brazilians in the government, in fact several of our biggest politicians were of mixed-race origin (like Deodoro da Fonseca, our first president and one of the candidates for president in 2010, Marina Silva), second is that private universities are not bad seen in Brazil, but are overly preferable to younger students because it's free, but for example, the best university in Brazil is private (PUC-SP).

    1. Como brasileño afrodescendiente, solo puedo te decir esto: estas totalmente equivocado.

      sin más...

  3. Hi Gabriel

    Thanks for nuance and extra info. I just reproduced the info I read in newspapers and so on. It's good to know there is more to the truth than what we generally read and hear in the media.

    However, I am a bit surprised that you mention Deodoro da Fonseca as a mixed race Afro-Brazilian. I wasn't aware of this and when checking I couldn't find any evidence confirming this. It seems to me he is 'white' or at least was considered as such.

    Many Brazilians are of course mixed race, even if they are not always aware of it. Even the Bandeirantes were generally mixed race.

    Of course Marina Silva is mixed race (and even stated as 'negro' in the Brazilian media) but I wouldn't call her a 'typical Brazilian politician'. She really stands out as an alternative choice and a rather new phenomenon in Brazilian politics. Don't you think so?

    Of course there are Afro Brazilian people on the highest level of society, but considering their great numbers among the people at large they are very much under respresented.

    Some examples though:

    Joaquim Barbosa (justice minister supreme court)
    Gilberto Gil (singer, Minister of Culture 2003-2008)
    Romario (ex soccer player and member of parliament - i think)
    Paulo Paim (senator)
    Benedita da Silva (governor of the state of Rio, and secretary of state under Lula until 2008)

    I think that's it, but I am not an expert of course. Any additional info is more than welcome.

    Best Wishes


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