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ECPR 50th Anniversary Fund

Affirmative Action for Brazilian Graduate Schools: Decision-Making Process and Patterns of Institutional Change

Latin America
Public Policy
Decision Making
Higher Education
Anna Carolina Venturini
Rio de Janeiro State University
Anna Carolina Venturini
Rio de Janeiro State University

Since 2002 graduate programs at Brazilian public universities have begun to create affirmative action for students from vulnerable groups, such as blacks and mixed race, indigenous people and students with disabilities. However, the institution of these measures for graduate studies is little known and suffers from the lack of analysis by the academic literature, with few studies devoted to studying how these measures were structured as public policies.
Unlike what happens with affirmative action for undergraduate courses in Brazil, there is still no federal law regulating measures for graduate studies and the first policies were created by the initiative of the graduate programs themselves. To date, research has found different forms of adoption of affirmative action, mostly fixed quotas that do not exclude the traditional phases of the admission process. Nevertheless, if these policies ultimately aim to include individuals from disadvantaged groups in graduate schools, some traditional procedures have a high potential for exclusion and may directly affect its effectiveness. For example, indigenous or economic disadvantaged students are often eliminated in the early stages of selective processes because of the requirement for proficiency in one or two foreign languages.
The empirical research identified that some programs have thought about the barriers faced by the various groups in access to graduate education and formulated policies that take such barriers into account, such as reduction of thresholds for indigenous candidates, application of new criteria for proof of foreign language proficiency, measures aimed at the permanence of beneficiaries, among others.
Michele Moses (2016) argues that the opportunities for dialogue and deliberation on affirmative action before ballot initiatives in Colorado have contributed to greater information and understanding of contested values, increased public understanding and encouraged people's willingness to reconsider their views and increase communication between the opposing sides of the issue. In the case of policies for access to graduate education in Brazil, it is important to verify if debates among faculty, students, researchers and members of social movements has played a relevant role in the approval of these educational policies and to the change of admissions’ criteria.
Moreover, since these are policies that directly affects an institution - the rules of student selection for graduate studies, it is also relevant to explain the different patterns of change. To that end, the paper will use the institutional change patterns model developed by Mahoney and Thelen (2009), specifying the types of change in the various programs, the institutional characteristics that allow changes and types of agents of change in each context.
The research was developed alongside from both theoretical and empirical efforts. The gathering of empirical data was done through a quantitative research among all the 2800 Brazilian graduate programs of public universities to find out which adopted affirmative action, followed by an online survey with graduate program’s coordinators and in-depth interviews with selected actors from some programs and the Ministry of Education to gather more qualitative data and cross-check information from the documents and survey.
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