University of São Paulo: Quota Law completes 10 years and proves to be effective in promoting diversity and inclusion


The Quota Law was enacted in 2012 and provides for the reserving of 50% of vacancies in universities and federal institutes of higher education for students from public schools. In this reserve, rules are included to allocate places to low-income students, in addition to blacks, browns, indigenous people and people with disabilities. According to José Marcelino de Rezende Pinto, professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of Ribeirão Preto at USP, the Quota Law exists as a function of several elements, but it has two main factors: “The first was the finding through research that the entrance exam is not a fair selection system. Factors associated with parental education — which in Brazil is associated with income level — influence student conditions.”

In addition, he mentions that Brazil is a country that has a very low relationship between the number of enrollments in higher education and the population in the corresponding range — generally between 18 and 24 years old. As per data from a study by the National Education Funding Research Association, the gross enrollment rate is about 34%. For Rezende, the entrance exam reveals itself as a socioeconomic and racial filter and the quotas are a measure to make this competition fairer.

Professor Renato Janine Ribeiro, from the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at USP and current president of the SBPC (Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science), describes the beginning of quotas: “The law was adopted in 2012, but there were already policies of quotas being conducted in several states, and the first consistent policy of quotas to exist in Brazil was instituted at UERJ (State University of Rio de Janeiro), about 20 years ago.”

Janine Ribeiro says that the implementation of ethnic-racial quotas caused a lot of controversy, because many people said that, in Brazil, it was very difficult to know who was white and who was black. For him, the discussion made no sense: “I remember reading an article by the journalist Elio Gaspari, in which he said that, when it comes to knowing who goes by the social elevator and the service elevator, anyone knows who is black. When it comes to giving a single advantage, the first in centuries, to populations historically very discriminated against, these questions arise”.

Article 7 of the Law provides for a review of the program after ten years of operation, but so far there are not many positions on the subject. The professor comments that the law sanctioned by President Dilma Rousseff determined that, ten years after its implementation, the Executive Branch would promote a reassessment of the quota policy. This law was modified in the Temer government, which removed the subject of the sentence. So, it is only said that a reassessment will be carried out after ten years and it is not said who will do it. “The review is not mandatory and the review period is flexible, whereas it can be delayed for months or years. At the moment there is no set date for the discussion to start”, highlights Janine Ribeiro.

Many people are afraid that the Quota Law will decline at the age of ten. But the professor reveals that, in a conversation with the former Minister of Justice and professor at the USP Law School, José Eduardo Cardozo, he was informed that, if the law does not provide for an expiration or variety period, it is valid until it is explicitly revoked by another: “The law does not provide for any of this, it only says that a reassessment of the policy will be made, not that the law will need to be renewed. It continues and none of the possible beneficiaries of quota policies have any reason to fear that it will come to an end”.

Caio César Pereira, a Journalism student at the University of São Paulo, describes his relationship with quotas: “I spent a lot of time without disagreeing or agreeing with quotas, but I tried my best not to use them. However, from the moment I started to look into the subject a little more, I understood their importance and how they could be beneficial for me”.

He mentions the fact that he entered the public university without taking a prep course, studying alone at home, when most people, especially at USP, took preparatory courses for the entrance exam to enter the university. “For anyone who, like me, comes from a public school, we invariably end up falling behind when it comes to education than most of these people. The way I found to try to balance things out a little more was by using quotas”, he says.

The quota system presupposes the reservation of a portion of the vacancies of a given course. In this way, quota holders compete for vacancies with other quota holders, that is, they do not compete for vacancies destined for broad competition. Professor Rezende comments that, in some situations, competition between quota holders is even greater: “There is a certain myth that there is no competition under the quota system. In fact, there is just as much competition, because there is more black population, more public school population in Brazil. When I look at high school enrollments in Brazil, 80% are from public schools. Often the competition is greater, what the quota does is make the competition a little fairer, that’s what it seeks to do”.

Caio Pereira relates Brazilian society to a race to reiterate the function of quotas: “If we make an analogy of Brazilian society to a race, people who are essentially white have already run long before us. So, quotas represent a way for us to reach the finish line or make the match at least more equal.”

The student does not see the quota system as a final measure, but as part of a democratization process. For him, quotas are a palliative measure and not a definitive measure. “It is a palliative way for us to be able to start fighting the problem, so that in the future we have other alternatives to fight this racial and economic inequality that we have here in the country”, he emphasizes.

Rezende points out that quotas are an emergency solution: “Emergencies are not resolved in ten years, I can say that Brazil had an explicit quota for whites in education for 400 years, which was the period of slavery, and we had another 100 years of implicit quotas, because, in general, the poor, the blacks, when they had access to education, it was always a low quality education. Quotas are an emergency medicine, but an emergency that needs time.”

Caio Pereira is an example of the importance and necessity of quotas in Brazil. He reports: “The quotas are very important for people like me, who come from public schools, who are black, who come from a different social reality than the majority who are here at the public university. They are important to show that we just shouldn’t be here, as we deserve to be

Although the law is aimed at federal educational institutions, the quota system has echoed in education across the country. The University of São Paulo, which is state-owned, started to institute affirmative admission policies in 2016 and, even if the adhesion is recent, it is possible to notice several differences in the University environment. According to Aluisio Segurado, professor at the Faculty of Medicine and pro-rector of Graduation at USP, the University of São Paulo has debated a lot about the propriety of adhering to quotas. He comments: “Diversity is enriching for the university environment, it is part of our social responsibility as a public university of great national and international prestige to be part of this great movement of inclusion, guaranteeing access to certain portions that were underrepresented in the students of the university. USP”.

Although affirmative action for admission is more recent at USP compared to other higher education institutions, the effects are already notable. “Over the years in which we have participated in this policy, we already have some very important conclusions about the certainty of this decision, which was really important for the University of São Paulo to join this movement and that this brought benefits in expanding this characteristic of diversity in the our students, representing the various segments of São Paulo and Brazilian society”, points out the pro-rector.

The proportion of vacancies reserved at USP includes two categories: the category of graduates from public education, which includes candidates who have completed high school in public schools, and a second set of vacancies reserved for graduates from exclusively public secondary education, but who self-declared black, brown or indigenous.

In recent years, the group of undergraduate students has shown to be more diverse, especially after joining the quotas. Professor Insured mentions: “Among undergraduate students who declare themselves to be black, brown and indigenous, we started from a level that existed in 2016 of 14.6%. This percentage has been increasing year on year, and in 2022 we went from 14.6% to a percentage of 22.7%”.

If only students who joined after 2016 are considered, the presence of students from public education is considerable. The pro-rector comments that the jump went from 17.9% in 2016 – which was the first year of affirmative action – to 26.2% in the 2022 entrance exam, including the two admission modalities, Sisu and Fuvest. As for the percentage of students from fully public high school, “we went from a percentage of 33.5% of public school graduates in 2016 to 51.7% in 2022. So, since last year, we already have at USP a majority of freshmen who are graduates of exclusively public high school, which in fact is a very important indicator of inclusion”, emphasizes the pro-rector.

The expansion of ethnic-racial diversity is even more significant in numbers. In the last quantitative, which is of students from exclusively public high school, who declare themselves to be black, brown and indigenous, the jump was greater. It went from 11% in 2016 to 21.6% in 2022. The Dean points out: “This is visible in our schools, faculties and institutes when we attend teaching and research units, when we go to libraries, classrooms classrooms, laboratories, cafeterias”

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Created in May 2022, the Dean of Inclusion and Belonging was conceived by the current management of the Dean of the University of São Paulo and appears at an important moment for USP, which has directed its focus to policies that allow for more diversity in its environment. One of the objectives of the Dean’s Office is to centralize initiatives that encourage plurality at USP. It includes guidelines such as admission to the University, student permanence policies and monitoring of the entire university community.

Ana Lúcia Lanna, professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism and Dean of Inclusion and Belonging at USP, comments on the prospect of improving inclusion at the University: “It is not just a Dean of affirmative action, as we have examples very interesting in several universities, it is a pro-rector of inclusion and belonging policies for students, professors and technical-administrative servants. She thinks about the University as a whole and recognizes that including, that is, creating conditions for this diversity to integrate the University, is fundamental”.

Quotas are important, but they alone are not enough. “It’s not enough for me to put 50% of public school students in here with percentages equivalent to the population of blacks, pardos and indigenous people, if I don’t provide an effective condition for permanence. This means making policies for the whole of the University”, says professor Ana Lúcia, recognizing that more policies are needed.

This year, two changes will be implemented in the USP admission system. The first is the heteroidentification commission , which seeks to respond to fraud that may eventually occur in quotas. The commission will act before the enrollment is consolidated. The pro-rector comments that USP recognized that the way this had been happening, which was through denunciations, was very painful for people, for movements, for collectives and for the institution.

Another change is the modification in the call for approved students. Before, the call for vacancies was carried out differently for the broad competition and the quota holders, this meant that vacancies were defined in advance. Now, if a student who has graduated from a public school or who declares himself to be black, childbirth or indigenous has a performance that allows him to enter due to wide competition, he starts to compete in this category and releases one of the vacancies reserved for quota holders. Professor Ana Lúcia mentions: “When you made the separate admission lists, you actually had students who entered the quota profile, whether socioeconomic or ethnic-racial, who would have entered into wide competition. So, that’s what was changed, we’re very happy, we think it’s going to be an innovative entrance exam”.

Permanence policies are also fundamental for the construction of a diverse environment, and one of USP’s actions is to offer resources for students to remain at the University. “We want them to be better and better, more and more efficient, more and more adequately targeted at students, that is, for us to make the right choices. Students effectively need this support to be able to maintain their daily life in university life, that is, that they can eat, that they can live, that they can go to the movies, that they can buy a book, that they can get around”, highlights the pro-rector about the importance of permanence allowances.

Professor Ana Lúcia talks about the objective of making students feel that they belong to the university environment: “In the sense that their places of differences, their originally precarious places or a phenotypic characteristic that causes more pain and exclusion than another , or a situation of historical reparations not carried out or not fully carried out, they have power and the University has to dialogue with them”. Another concern of the Dean of Inclusion and Belonging is the diversity of the teaching staff of the University of São Paulo servers. The dean says that the University is still excessively white from the point of view of the professors. So, this is also one of the issues discussed and thought about by the Dean’s Office in search of a more diverse university.

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