The expansion of higher education in Brazil under the Workers’ Party: 2002-2016

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Cycle de séminaires "Démocratie et inégalités au Brésil"


Flavio Carvalhaes Flavio Carvalhães

Professeur de Sociologie, Université Fédérale de Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).




Flavio Carvalhaes is a sociologist with expertise in social stratification, sociology of education, and higher education. His scholarship examines inequalities in the Brazilian educational system, transitions from school to work in Brazil, and processes of higher education expansion in comparative perspective, among others. Currently, Flavio works with graduate students and Brazilian civil servants from the Ministry of Education to produce administrative and register data for sociological research. Flavio holds a PhD in Sociology from the Instituto de Estudos Políticos Sociais (Brazil) and is currently Professor of Sociology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).



Explicit measures to trigger social inclusion both in the private and public sector were a hallmark of educational policies led by the Workers Party, the left-wing party that governed Brazil between 2002 and 2016. Did they work? I’ll start my presentation looking at the expansion of higher education in Brazil. Using data from the Brazilian Higher Education Censuses from 2002 to 2016, I find that the growth of the system triggered market oligopolization.

In contrast to other countries that limit the supply of for-profit tertiary education, the Brazilian case can only be thought of in terms of the importance of private actors and their participation in tertiary education. After establishing the patterns of expansion I ask: how do students from different socioeconomic backgrounds take advantage of the new educational opportunities available in the system? The second part of my presentation looks at the effects of socioeconomic status in the transition to higher education in Brazil.

I use measures of academic achievement to assess the extent to which students with privileged backgrounds are able to compensate for poor academic performance in accessing higher education. I find that high achievers across income strata—rich and poor — enter higher education. At the opposite end of the achievement spectrum, however, students with low achievement and privileged backgrounds take advantage of their social origins and have high probability of entering higher education.

This does not happen among poor students. I suggest that students from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds benefit from alternative entry strategies, such as paying tuition at less competitive private colleges. This research provides an important instrument to evaluate the efficacy of social policies that try to widen participation in higher education.



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