The Quotas Act (12,711/12) will turn ten years old in 2022 and a review of its provisions is scheduled for this year. The legal text reserves 50% of the vacancies of federal higher education institutions for people who attended their entire high school in public schools and declare themselves black, brown, or indigenous, in addition to people with disabilities. Half of the spaces reserved must be reserved for students from families with a per capita income equal to or less than 1.5 minimum wages. In this article, we propose two changes that can be made in the legislation to increase the enrollment of marginalized individuals in public education and reduce dropout rates.

An instrument for repair of historical injustices

Racism, discrimination, and the effects of social inequality are some of the various assaults that individuals from minority groups experience in the course of their social and academic trajectory. The problem requires a more active role of the State in the adoption of effective measures, whether voluntary or coercive, with the aim of safeguarding the dignity of the human being.[1]

The Federal Constitution of 1988, in its article 3, defined as the fundamental objectives of the Republic: to build a free, fair, and solidary society, to guarantee national development, to eradicate poverty and marginalization, to reduce social and regional inequalities, and to promote the well-being of all, without prejudice to origin, race, sex, color, age, and any other form of discrimination.

The framers of the Constitution explicitly established that the State has the duty to apply the measures necessary to combat prejudice and discrimination, eliminate social inequality, and promote opportunities for historically vulnerable groups, in order to allow this segment to ascend from the socioeconomic point of view.

The institutionalization of affirmative action is, therefore, a tool for the Rule of Law to achieve de facto equality, given the historical injustices in Brazilian society against social minorities identified as black, indigenous, women, people with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ individuals.

The Quotas Act was enacted exactly for this purpose. The advances it provides, however, have been slow. A study by the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) showed that "between [the years of] 2016 and 2018, the proportion of [black] students aged 18 to 24 years attending higher education, went from 50.5% to 55.6%. This level, however, was still below the 78.8% of students in the white population of the same age group in this level of education.[2]

Two proposals for improvement

In our view, two relevant changes could be made during the revision of the Quotas Act to increase its effectiveness:

  • inclusion of welfare mechanisms to keep quota-holding students in academic education; and
  • implementation of measures to combat fraud by candidates who self-declare as black, brown, and indigenous without actually belonging to this segment.

We believe it is not enough to insert peripheral people in the academic environment through a quota mechanism without means for the permanence of these students in the educational system, with measures such as pedagogical and emotional support and financial aid for the maintenance of black students in educational institutes. This would reduce dropout rates for financial reasons. After all, the reality faced by many individuals at the margins is that they leave the educational institution, without completing the basic cycle, in search of unskilled jobs for subsistence.[3]

As for the problem of fraud, Law 12,711/12 is silent regarding inspection to validate racial self-declaration. As a way to compensate for this omission, some higher education institutions already adopt security mechanisms, such as the hetero-identification committees, "method[s] of identifying an individual's race and ethnicity from the social perception of another person."[4] Thus, the candidates who declare themselves to be black, brown, and indigenous during the selection process for admission to higher education are analyzed by a committee based on phenotypical and documentary criteria, in order to reduce the access of fraudsters to higher education.[5]

Intentional action by business to accelerate correction of inequalities

Faced with the reality of underemployment of historically vulnerable individuals, the companies themselves have started to promote affirmative action in the job market to expand the amount of black people in the corporate environment through specific selection processes for this segment.

A well-known example is Magazine Luiza. With 53% blacks in the workforce, the company found that this group represented only 16% of management positions. To start correcting the problem, the company has adopted a selection process for trainees aimed only at black individuals, without excluding criteria such as the need for fluent English and prior experience abroad.[6] In the end, 19 professionals were selected and went through a training process for leadership roles.

The initiative shows that it is not enough to insert people at the margins of the elite labor market by means of university quotas and affirmative action. It is also necessary to offer courses, mentoring, a financial basis, and management training to develop and improve these individuals so that in the near future they can be on an equal footing with other professionals.

Another important affirmative action is Project Include Right, which encourages participation by and inclusion of black professionals in law firms. The initiative of the Center for Studies of Law Firms (Cesa), which recently won the 18th edition of the Innovare Award[7] in the Law Practice category, offers courses to train professionals and help them compete for positions in the firms associated with Cesa in selection processes aimed only at black participants in the project.

From formal equality to de facto equality

Reparative initiatives are extremely important for the inclusion of blacks and other minorities in society. It is necessary to treat individuals who experience different realities unequally, in order to offer those at the margins of society greater chances for improvement. From formal equality, established by the Constitution, we need to advance to material equality, de facto equality, and fulfill the goal of the Republic, based on the principle of human dignity, of building an equitable society, in which actions of historical equalization will no longer be necessary for the placement of vulnerable groups in the class environment.


[1] Research, Society and Development, v. 10, n. 7, e47510717067, 2021.

[2] Desigualdades sociais por cor ou raça no Brasil [“Social inequalities by color or race in Brazil”], IBGE, Estudos e Pesquisas – Informação Demográfica e Socioeconômica, No. 41, 2019.

[3]"The college is not ready to deal with the remainder of quota students", Carta Capital, November 20, 2019

[4] " What is hetero-identification and how will hetero-identification committees work in this selective process?", IFRS Selective Process, March 22, 2021

[5] "Quotas Act has decisive year in Congress," Agência Senado, February 11, 2022,,de%20gradua%C3%A7%C3%A3o%20de%20institui%C3%A7%C3%B5es%20particulares.

[6] Legacy: The Magalu Trainee Program exclusive for black (black and brown) people, YouTube, September , 21, 2021,

[7] 18th edition of the Innovare Prize, Innovare Institute, 2021,