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Brazil: New affirmative action policy for universities passed

In the first week of August, the plenary of the Brazilian Senate passed a new law introducing a major affirmative action overhaul of the federal university admissions system. The first version of this bill appeared in the parliament already in 2008 and it took four years to find enough support for the proposed changes. Enacted into law by the country’s President only days ago, the measure has put into effect a quota system at all 59 federal universities but is not necessarily binding for the many state-run and private institutions.

Although quota systems in the Brazilian public higher education system are not a new phenomenon, they have had many forms and shapes with no uniform policy overseeing them at the federal level. The new system provides a comprehensive and clear direction. The backbone of the law guarantees at least 50% of all places of a particular course to students who completed their secondary education (all of it) at a public school. Moreover, it establishes additional affirmative action criteria based on family income and race.

Out of those 50% places certain for public school graduates, at least another 50% of the same category will be set aside for students who come from families with a monthly income equal to or less than the 1.5 of the calculated minimum salary per capita. Additionally, in each federal higher education institution, a proportion of places equal to the racial make-up of the particular state will be reserved for students who declare themselves as people of colour, pardos or indigenous. The exact numbers will be established based on the latest census and represent the minimum threshold of places guaranteed for the above mentioned groups.

As with many major systemic changes, the new requirements will be phased in gradually with the first four years acting as a transition period where 25% will be the absolute minimum instead of the 50. The government will also monitor the policy with a major evaluation exercise and potential revisions scheduled ten years after the implementation of the new system.

Senate of Brazil (the Bill, in Portuguese) Senate of Brazil (Press release, in Portuguese)