Bass Connections Faculty Team Leader. The Cost of Opportunity: Access to Higher Education in Brazil. 2018 - 2019

Projects & Field Work

Primary Theme: Education & Human Development

Brazil in the early 21st century faces challenges of great magnitude, and the expanded system of federal universities is expected to play a fundamental role in confronting them. The hopeful vision of a better future, with development and social justice, draws sustenance from a successful process of democratization since 1985, important economic advances and the positive impact of redistributive public policies. Yet existing pessimism and frustrations are more than justified by the persistence of social and racial inequalities, inefficient administration and concerns about environmental sustainability. Moreover, Brazil is passing through an accelerated demographic transition. The future of the country, to a great extent, depends on the degree of access to and quality of education. Since 2001, Brazil has engaged in a vast expansion of its higher education system, with the stated goals of promoting economic mobility and reducing social disparities. Enrollments in Brazilian universities have more than doubled, from 3.0 million to 7.8 million students, yet the broader effects of these policies are poorly understood. Existing analyses of Brazilian higher education policies are entirely associational and descriptive in their methodology, and there is still no consensus about the extent to which policies actually contribute, in a causal sense, to social mobility or to the reduction of poverty and inequalities. Both the potential and obstacles ahead are particularly acute in the region known as the Baixada Fluminense on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. With four million inhabitants, the Baixada has one of the highest concentrations of young people in Brazil. It is routinely stigmatized both socially and racially. The county of Novo Iguaçu in the Baixada region is home to 829,000 people and is the location of the Multidisciplinary Institute of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (IM/UFRRJ), the first-ever investment by the central government to address the demand for tuition-free higher education in the Baixada as part of the inclusionary policies of center-left presidential administrations since 2002. The IM/UFRRJ occupies three new buildings, has an energetic and recently hired faculty and enrolls 3,500 students in ten areas of study. The demand for higher education—and the scope of the challenge in delivering it—can be seen in looking at the census estimates for the seven counties closest to the IM/UFRRJ with 353,653 young people between the ages of 18 and 25. Given the 2016 objectives established by the National Plan of Education, 116,705 of these young people should have access to a university education, with 40% of the slots to be generated at the new public universities like the IM/UFFRJ, which at present reaches only 1% of the local population of the age group defined as the primary target for university education. This Bass Connections project began in 2016-2017, in collaboration with faculty, graduate students and undergraduates at the IM/UFRRJ.

Service Performed By


  • Bass Connections Faculty Team Leader


  • 2018 - 2019

Service or Event Name

  • The Cost of Opportunity: Access to Higher Education in Brazil

Geographic Region