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From South America to Europe, Scholars Discuss Equity

While affirmative action programs are being challenged in the United States, Brazil is readily adopting these admissions policies in their colleges and universities as the morally correct thing to do to address the socioeconomic exclusion of Blacks, according to research done by Fulbright New Century scholar, Dr. Michele S. Moses.

Moses previewed the findings of her study, “Affirmative Action in Brazil and the United States: Understanding the Moral Foundations, Disagreements and Imperatives,” at the Fulbright New Century Scholars symposium last week. Moses, an associate professor in the department of Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was one of 12 Fulbright scholars to discuss their research on “Higher Education in the 21st Century: Issues of Access & Equity.”

Moses’ research asserts that the goal of affirmative action in the United States is not to support human rights, as it is in Brazil where government officials are trying to enhance educational opportunities for Blacks and mulattos, who have been excluded from higher education, through remediation and compensation. “In Brazil, affirmative action is justified primarily as a moral imperative,” Moses said. “But here in the United States, the justifications are primarily instrumental.”

The Fulbright New Century Scholars Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, collected a group of 36 researchers from around the world to study the topic of access and equity in higher education in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe.

Dr. Petr Mateju, head of the department of education and social stratification at the Institute of Sociology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, found that access to higher education in East-central Europe was limited to those from more affluent backgrounds.

“Most of the European systems of secondary education show low permeability, high stratification and vocational specificity, which makes social background really important in making decisions about going to college or not,” he said while presenting the findings from his research, “Can Supply-Driven Educational Systems Achieve Higher Equity? Institutional, Economic and Social Conditions for Achieving Greater Equity in Access to Higher Education in East-Central Europe.”

Mateju suggested the educational system be “profoundly reformed” to encourage students from low socioeconomic backgrounds to attend college and increase expectations of economically disadvantaged students. “Isolated changes in secondary education or on the tertiary level won’t do the job,” he said.

Dr. Abdu Kasozi, executive director of the National Council for Higher Education of Uganda, presented his research on “The Resources and Policies that Provide Great Access to Higher Education.” Kasozi said the Ugandan government spends less than 1 percent of its national budget on higher education, and this lack of funding is negatively affecting the quality of education as demand for postsecondary education increases. Kasozi’s work suggests that the state should bear at least 30 percent of higher education costs, with the rest being funded by the private sector and students.

“I think it is important to note that a liberal democratic social structure is the basis for increasing and distributing resources equitably,” Kasozi said. “Without that I think what we are saying is merely words.”

Responding to the scholars’ work, Dr. Jamil Salmi, coordinator of the World Bank’s network of tertiary education professionals, said the presentations confirmed for him that other nations should reconsider offering free higher education. “Free isn’t always fair,” he said. The wealthy can afford to pay for elite secondary education and then go on to compete for admission to free universities with poor students who could not afford private schooling, Salmi said. This then perpetuates the cycle of allowing open access to the rich and restricting higher education opportunities for the economically disadvantaged.

Fulbright New Century Scholar, Dr. Juan Silas Casillas, a professor in the department of education at the Universidad de Monterrey, said he hopes the research done through the New Century Program will impact higher education policies around the world. “It will have an impact on the actual policy making for enhancing opportunities of accessing higher education for all types of students, and I’m really hoping it will be enhancing for low-income students,” he said. “I think it will be beneficial. I think it’s not just the typical academic thing that leads to a paper or a book, and then you’re done. I think it’s much more than that.”

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