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Brazil enacts university quota law

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Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff enacted legislation that reserves half the spots at federal universities for public school students and gives priority to minorities. Rousseff hailed the move to open access to federal universities, the most prestigious in the country.

“The legislation addresses a double challenge: democratising access to universities and maintaining high quality of education,” Rousseff said.

The law requires 50 percent of seats at federal universities to go to students who completed their secondary education in public schools. In Brazil, many wealthy families send their children to private schools, where the standard of education is often much higher. The reserved seats will be distributed between black, mixed race and indigenous students, proportional to the demographics in each state of the South American country.

Spots will also be reserved for the children of families with income of less than $450 a month. Of Brazil’s 59 federal universities, 32 already have limited quota systems in place. In 2001, Rio de Janeiro State University was the first such institution to introduce racial quotas.

More than half of Brazil’s population of 191 million is black or of mixed race, but recent findings show that only 2.2 percent of Afro-Brazilians currently have access to universities. Brazil’s Indians only account for 0.4 percent of the population.

“We are creating an opportunity for the best students from the public school system to have better access to federal universities,” said Education Minister Aloizio Mercadante, stressing the importance of “reducing social inequalities”.

The law aims to correct traditional disparities.

“Public universities have always reproduced the social status quo: children of the elite get into free institutions after paying for some of the most expensive schools in the country,” the president of the Afro-Brazilian group Palmera Foundation, Eloi Ferreira de Araujo, told AFP.

Marcelo Paixao of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro pointed to the “myth” that there is no racism in Brazil.

“But that’s not true, and this law will help reduce the social abyss,” he said.

Brazil was one of the last countries to abolish slavery in 1888. Black movements in Brazil have long campaigned in favour of quotas, but critics worry the university quota law reinforces discrimination.

“Introducing racial criteria is not good and leads to profound injustices. Two brothers from the same mother and a different father can be black and white. They have the same social status, but find themselves in different situations,” said Senator Aloysio Nunes, the only lawmaker to vote against the law.

The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that adopting race quotas in higher education was constitutional. (AFP)

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