The law which forces Brazilian federal universities to leave 50% of higher education seats to students from government schools and minorities such as blacks and indigenous became effective on Monday.
“The bill will help to compensate a historic debt of Brazil with our poorest youngsters” said President Dilma Rousseff during her weekly broadcast.
The 59 federal universities will have to make the law effective immediately and begin selecting students for the school year in 2013 added the president. The bill sets out that 12.5% of university places are reserved for blacks, indigenous and students from publish schooling and the percentage will grow sustainedly until it reaches 50% by 2026.
Affirmative action or positive discrimination means public school students have access to half of the places at federal universities (funded by the government) several of which in international ratings are considered among the country’s best academic centres, ahead of private institutions.
The initiative wants to limit access to students from private schools that usually have higher grades to those from public schools when it comes to the admission exams and end keeping most of the place in federal universities.
“Our target is to expand access to our universities and higher education federal institutes for the students from public schools, blacks and indigenous. These universities are among the best in the country and most of the time students coming from public schools have difficulties in being admitted”, said Rousseff.
But the law also contemplates that among the students from public schools admitted to the universities, to be selected according to their grades, they include sub-quotas for blacks, mulattos, indigenous or low income families.
This way half of the available places with go to students with the highest grades and that can show family income is below 1.5 minimum salary (approx 466 dollars) no matter race, while the other half to those who allege racial criteria and will be delivered in direct proportion to the race distribution in each state.
In states such as Bahía with the greatest percentage of black population in Brazil, the criteria will favour the afro-descendents while the indigenous will be most benefited in the Amazon states, where most of them live.
According to the latest census of 2010 the majority of the Brazilian population considered itself afro-descendent, which is quite unusual for a country which started collecting stats back in 1872. The last census shows Brazilians number 190.8 million of which 50.7% Negro or mulatto, 47-7% white; 1.1% yellow and 0.4% indigenous.
Even before the current bill, 32 of the 59 federal universities already had a system that favoured admission for children from poor families and 25 had racial quotas.
The bill became effective when the media reports that although yet unconfirmed by government, the administration of President Rousseff is considering extending the quota system to tests for contracting federal staff.
The quotas policy was ratified and considered constitutional this year by the Supreme Tribunal following a case in which a conservative political party campaigned against the system arguing it was ‘senseless’ in a society with such racial blending as is Brazil.