Quota Act has ensured over 100,000 places for blacks in higher education

brasilobserver - Aug 31 2015
"Racism Out; Quota Now!" (Photo: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil)

(Leia em Português)


By Luciano Nascimento – from Agência Brasil

Celebrating its third anniversary, the Quota Act, an affirmative action policy designed to ensure better opportunities for Brazil’s black, indigenous, and low-income population to achieve higher education, has secured more than 111,000 places for black students at federal higher education institutes. The figure is reported by the Secretariat for Racial Equality Policies of the Presidency (SEPPIR), and is expected to go up to 150,000 by the end of 2015.

The Quota Act reserves at least 50% of the seats at federal undergraduate and technical education institutes for students coming from publicly-run schools who self-identify as black, mixed race, and native Brazilian, in proportion to the presence of these groups in the total population of the state where the education institute is located. The law also ensures that half of this quota will be allocated to students coming from families with household incomes not greater than 1.5 times the minimum wage (equivalent to $330).

A survey conducted by SEPPIR shows that in 2013, 50,937 students at federal higher and technical education were black. Last year, that number was 60,731. SEPPIR estimates that 40,000 more black students will be admitted into the programs by the end of 2015, totaling just over 150,000 since the law was enacted.



For Nilcéa Freire, former president of the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) and former head of the Secretariat for Women’s Rights Policies (SPM), the quotas law is a way to redress a historical distortion in Brazilian society that began with slavery, which led these groups to be virtually relegated and have scarcely any chance to pursue a degree.

“I would say we are still repaying our debt to our ancestors who suffered slavery. The legacies of this past have remained through the present day. Just think how much conflict there has been around the introduction of the quota system,” Freire said in an interview to EBC’s radio broadcast Viva Maria.

UERJ was the first Brazilian higher education institution to proactively adopt the quota system in 2001. Back then, Nilcéa Freire was the rector at the university, where she got her medical degree. She pointed out that one of the positive effects of the quota law is that it gives black boys and girls from public schools, young people from poor neighborhoods and slums a chance to pursue a career. “When I look at the photographs at my alma mater and see a picture of the first class of doctors who passed the admission examinations under the quota system I feel really proud. It’s a colorful group that reflects the diversity of the Brazilian people,” she said.



Some critics of the quota system contend that affirmative action policies hurt the principle of equality established by the Constitution. The controversy escalated to the Supreme Court in a historic trial in 2012, and the quota system was unanimously found to be constitutional.

Back then, Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, rapporteur on the case, noted that only 2% of Brazil’s black population achieved a degree in those days, and pointed out that the people who faced discrimination had enormous potential to contribute toward a more advanced society.