Unesco recommends affirmative action admissions policies

Universities across the globe should introduce affirmative action admissions policies to widen access for disadvantaged students, according to a new policy paper from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Unesco also calls for governments to cap student loan repayments at 15 per cent of graduates’ monthly earnings, but it rejects policies granting free tuition for all students, claiming that one-size-fits-all programmes have been proven to discriminate against poor students.

The study, “We can make higher education equitable and affordable for all”, written by the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report team and the International Institute for Education Planning at Unesco, cites a law in Brazil that stipulates that half of all places at the country’s 63 federal universities are guaranteed to students from public secondary schools, or those of African or indigenous descent.

On affirmative action, Brazilian universities’ admissions policies were changed to reflect the ethnic profile of their state, while lower income students were given bonuses on entrance examinations, the report says.

Meanwhile, in India, 22.5 per cent of all places in educational institutions are reserved for students from tribes and lower castes, it adds.

Affirmative action admissions policies – which can involve quotas for disadvantaged groups, bonuses on test scores or consideration of contextual information about applicants – are controversial.

Two white women who were rejected from the University of Texas at Austin in 2008 took the institution to court, alleging that it had discriminated against them on the basis of their race, but last year the US Supreme Court upheld the university’s consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions.

Taya Louise Owens, research officer at GEM Report and co-author of the paper, said that although “there is no silver bullet” when it comes to designing admissions policies, evidence…

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