This week, the Brazilian Senate approved a bill that regulates the system of social and racial quotas in public universities. It is expected that President Dilma Rousseff will sign the bill into law.
Designed with the objective of ensuring equal opportunities, the bill reserves half the spots in the country’s public federal universities for graduates of public high schools. These spaces will be distributed among Afro-Brazilian students, mestizos and Indigenous proportionally according to the racial and ethnic composition of each state.
Although Brazil has the biggest Afro-descendant population outside of Nigeria, students in private schools are still predominantly Caucasian. Private-school students are usually better prepared than their public-school peers for the difficult university entrance exams, and as a result, they are better represented at the prestigious, heavily subsidized, federal universities.
Afro-Brazilian Senator Paulo Paim said that the bill will benefit the majority of Brazilian students because only 1 in 10 students graduate from private schools. Further, according to Senator Ana Rita, "the bill brings social justice to most of the Brazilian population." She and other supporters of the bill argue that racial quotas will help reverse the country’s historic inequality.
Others have criticized the measure. Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, a senator who voted against the proposal, argued that the bill "puts a straightjacket on universities because it violates their autonomy." He further stressed that federal universities should select students with the best grades, regardless of race or social class.
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