IIE Networker - Fall 2009 - (Page 20)

ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION Promoting Inclusiveness in Higher Education in Latin America: A Policy Response By Joan Dassin Inequality and Higher Education For decades, Latin America and the Caribbean have been characterized as the “most unequal region in the world” (Gasparini, et.al, 2009). Large differences in income and consumption and access to education, land and basic services like water and sanitation are found throughout the region. Measuring and analyzing these disparities have long preoccupied economists and other social scientists, whose studies have been hampered by scarce and inconsistent data. More recently, however, international organizations such as the Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL), the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank have prepared more detailed assessments based on national household surveys. When compared across the region, this information suggests that some aspects of inequality in Latin America—although still deeply entrenched—have declined in the 2000s, reversing significant increases registered in the 1980s and 1990s (Gasparini, et.al, 2009). Just as debate is beginning over whether Latin America’s historic inequalities are receding, there is evidence that the more than two-fold expansion of higher education places since the 1980s is providing new opportunities to students from poorer families. In Brazil, for example, 35 percent of the students in public higher education institutions have family incomes below US$300 per month, although they represent 47 percent of the population (Schwartzman, 2009). However, enrollment of higher income groups has increased as well, and the increase appears to be concentrated in the upper levels of income distribution (Gasparini, et.al, 2009). Measurement issues notwithstanding, the conclusion of a 2005 World Bank publication is still valid. “Higher education in Latin America remains largely elitist, with the majority of students coming from the wealthier segments of society” (HolmNielson, et. al, 2005). The most controversial aspect of Latin America’s enduring inequalities is how to assess their racial and ethnic component. Extensive research documents the “ethnic concentration of inequality” (Patrinos, 2000). Throughout the region, indigenous and Afrodescendent populations experience higher percentages of poverty and extreme poverty, even in poor countries. In Bolivia, more than half the total population is poor, but this condition affects over two-thirds of the bilingual indigenous population and almost three-quarters of the monolingual indigenous population. In Guatemala, 87 percent of all indigenous households fall below the poverty line, as opposed to 66 percent among the general population. In Brazil, despite the fluidity of racial lines in social interactions, blacks and mulattoes are disproportionately represented in the lowest 30 percent of individual income earners (Patrinos, 2000). have a lower probability of entering higher education and obtaining a university degree than their non-indigenous and non-Afrodescendent counterparts. Other factors besides ethnicity and race also inhibit access to higher education. In Latin America women outnumber men in both secondary and tertiary education, but the combination of exclusion factors such as place of origin, ethnicity and gender has a profound effect. In Peru, for example, an indigenous woman from a rural area is nearly four times less likely to enter higher education than a white urban male, but even less likely to do so than an indigenous male from a rural area. Since the overall enrollment rate in Peru is already low, these disparities mean that while higher education prospects for indigenous men in the country are dim, for indigenous women they are practically nil (Trivelli et.al., 2008). Indigenous and Afro-descendent populations experience higher percentages of poverty. It is not surprising that these differences carry over into higher education. In Mexico, according to data supplied by the National Association of Universities and Institutions of Higher Education (ANUIES), only 2 percent of the indigenous people in the 18-25 age cohort advances to higher education and only one in five graduates. In contrast, 22 percent of non-indigenous people from the same age group in Mexico enters higher education, and one in three graduates (Navarrete, 2008). In Brazil, although the proportion of nonwhites in higher education increased from 22 percent in 2001 to 32 percent in 2007, they are still underrepresented in a society where approximately half the population self-identifies as nonwhite (Schwartzman, 2009). Figures for other countries in the region show a similar pattern: members of indigenous and Afro-descendent households A Policy Response For educators and policymakers, changing this picture presents formidable challenges. The debate over race-based student quotas in Brazil is instructive. Under a pending bill, federal higher education institutions would be required to impose a 50 percent quota for public school graduates who are poor and nonwhite. If passed, this would be the most sweeping legislation in Latin America aimed at increasing social inclusion in higher education. It would follow on previous efforts in Brazil to include poor, nonwhite students through tax incentives and university-based affirmative action programs. Simon Schwartzman, a prominent higher education expert, argues that the controversies around the quota bill have obscured more important, underlying issues in Brazilian higher education, namely, how 20

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of IIE Networker - Fall 2009

IIE Networker - Fall 2009
Message from Allan E. Goodman
Public Diplomacy and Academic Exchange: Policy Priorities of the New Administration
Student Mobility Trends in Latin America
Promoting Inclusiveness in Higher Education in Latin America: A Policy Response
IIENetworker University Presidents Interview Series
Student Recruitment in the Caribbean: New Strategies for Cooperation
Bridging Borders: A Project for the Development and Diversification of Higher Learning Institutions in the United States and Haiti
Recent Challenges to Study Abroad in Mexico: Economic Crisis, Security Risks, H1N1
Special Feature: International Education Initiatives in Latin America
New York City and Sao Paulo, Public Policy and Business: A New Dual Degree Partnership
The Browser: Advertisers' Index
IIE Program Profile: The IIE Regional Office for Latin America

IIE Networker - Fall 2009