Brazil benefits from social quotas in higher education

Copyright: Raúl Santana/ Fiocruz

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  • Researchers evaluated performance in a million students taking national exams
  • Students who accessed university via quota system performed as well or better
  • Evidence backs inclusion policies that have been controversial in Brazil

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The performance of students who accessed higher education through social inclusion policies in Brazil is equal and sometimes even better than that of their peers, according to a study published by the Brazilian journal Educação e Pesquisa (12 January) and supported by FAPESP (the São Paulo Research Foundation).

The researchers evaluated about one million students who participated in the National Student Performance Test (ENADE). This is equivalent to one third of the total number of students who took the test between 2012 and 2014. 

“The qualifications of quota holders and non-quota holders are equivalent in terms of their performance in professional activities.”

Jaques Weiner, State University of Campinas

The inclusion policies considered in the study represent a system of quotas targeting people who have lower access to universities. Among them are black and indigenous populations, persons with disabilities and students from public schools with lower incomes. It also includes the beneficiaries of two social inclusion programmes supported by the Ministry of Education: the University for All programme (PROUNI) and the Fund for Student Support (FIES).

“Working with the 2012-2014 data, we were able to trace the performance of one third of graduate students in that period. We noted that the qualifications of students who came from [quota] allocations or [through the] FIES were not significantly different from their classmates. And the qualifications of PROUNI scholarship students were much better than their classmates,” said Jaques Weiner, professor of Informatics at the State University of Campinas, in an article published in FAPESP’s newsletter.

The racial and social quotas system has been controversial since it was created. “In spite of extensive literature, there are only few [commentators] that support their views — either in favor or against the system — based on evidence,” says Wainer.

“One of the arguments used by those who oppose the quotas is that this system represents a loss to society, because the quota holders take more qualified students out of the education system; and because, after graduating, they become less qualified as professionals than non-quota holders,” explains Wainer. He was surprised that the team’s research disproved this hypothesis.

“If we consider ENADE to be a good measure of the qualifications of students graduating from universities then we must admit, based on the analysis of these data, that the qualifications of quota holders and non-quota holders are equivalent in terms of their performance in professional activities”, Wainer asserts.

Taken from a newsletter by FAPESP, a SciDev.Net donor, edited by our Latin America and the Caribbean desk.