Collaborative Research in Brazil Delves into Higher Education, Politics and Social Justice

June 28, 2018

In Brazil, enrollment in higher education has tripled in the last decade. Three quarters of this growth, however, has taken place in tuition-charging private institutions that are out of reach for low-income families.

Rio de Janeiro’s poor urban periphery – known as the Baixada Fluminense – has the country’s highest concentration of young people. Located in this region, the new Multidisciplinary Institute of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro is a source of hope for this racially and socially stigmatized community of four million people.

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But what is the real cost, in all senses of the word, of pursuing higher education on the part of local young people and their parents?

A Bass Connections project called The Cost of Opportunity? Higher Education in the Baixada Fluminense began in 2016 in collaboration with faculty, graduate students and undergraduates at the Multidisciplinary Institute. Through joint fieldwork and a series of campus sojourns, the Duke and Brazil team members are conducting highly collaborative research directed toward fostering social mobility in the region.

Representing the project team, doctoral students Travis Knoll and Andrew Guinn appeared as guests on WNCU’s weekly radio program, The Measure of Everyday Life.

The Measure of Everyday Life is hosted by Dr. Brian Southwell, director of the Science in the Public Sphere Program at RTI International and adjunct professor at Duke’s Social Science Research Institute. The episode “Higher Education Access in Brazil and the U.S.” aired on June 24 and is available on the program’s website and iTunes.

Andrew and Travis with colleagues in BrazilKnoll, a History Ph.D. student at Duke, Knoll is writing his dissertation on black Brazilian Catholics and affirmative action. Guinn, a doctoral candidate in City and Regional Planning at UNC Chapel Hill, is examining Brazil’s expansion of access to vocational and professional training institutions, and how these reforms contributed to social mobility and labor market outcomes.

Undergraduate team members Joe Beck ’20 and Riley Allen ’19 gave a talk at the Education & Human Development EHDx Talks on April 19, and the team presented a poster at EHDx and the Bass Connections Showcase. The project will continue in 2018-19.

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Photos: Campus exterior view; Travis Knoll (far right) and Andrew Guinn (center) with colleagues at the Instituto Federal of Paracambi