Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Expanding Access to Higher Education and Its (Limited) Consequences for Social Inclusion: The Brazilian Experience

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Abstract:  This article adopts an historical institutionalism perspective (Pierson, 2011; Pierson & Skocpol, 2002; Thelen, 2014). Its main goal is to understand the lasting dynamics and path dependency processes that constrain the impact of expanding access to higher education (HE) in changing the pattern of social inequalities in a given country. To do this, the article will explore two different aspects of the impact of education on social inclusion: the dynamics associated with production and distribution of portable skills and competences, and the dynamics associated with social stratification. The study follows the experience of Brazilian HE over the last 15 years. In this period, the country experienced a rapid expansion, coming from a total undergraduate enrolment of 2.7 million in 2000 up to nine million in 2016. Nevertheless, the design of this expansion assumed a very conservative pattern. Following a well-ingrained domestic pattern, most of this expansion was absorbed by the country’s huge demand-driven private sector, and into less than half a dozen very traditional types of bachelor programs. Thus, the article argues that by failing to diversify, and by preserving old institutional hierarchies, expanding access to HE in Brazil has rendered less impact than one would expect on the country’s social inequalities.

Keywords:  access; Brazil; competences; diversification; dualization; education; higher education; skills; social stratification



© Elizabeth Balbachevsky, Helena Sampaio, Cibele Yahn de Andrade. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.