In Brazil, the college is without doubt one of the huge bets within the presidential elections

Tonight, they will present to classmates and the professor the analysis of a novel, an exam that will count towards obtaining a bachelor’s degree in literature in six months. They are not ordinary students and they are not studying at an ordinary university.
They are the first in their family to attend higher education.

And at 18:00, starting time of the 4-hour course, they already have a working day behind them. Mayandson and Mariene go home at night. They live about forty kilometers northwest of Rio. Over an hour by chaotic bus.

Mayandson lives in one of Rio’s most violent favelas, with a population of 15,000, where drug gangs vie for territory with local self-defense militias.

“Sometimes I couldn’t go to my classes because there was shooting everywhere,” he says. Not far away, the district of Mariene also lives under the control of militias. In these pockets of poverty, there are no land titles, no water treatment, and no legal electricity. The militias replace failed public services, pull cables, extort residents to distribute gas cylinders. Heavily armed, they engaged in frequent urban guerrillas, which often resulted in deaths, including among the inhabitants. In Rio, more than 4 million people suffer from the law.

Mayandson and Mariene have been traveling from world to world five times a week for nearly four years chasing their dream of becoming teachers. Taisa too. But his family lives 150 km away, too far to go back. A scholarship recipient, she shares university accommodation with seven other girls.

All of them benefit from the quota policy (race, low income) implemented by Lula’s left, which allowed hundreds of thousands of blacks, mestizos and low-income families to have access to higher education.
The Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, where they study, applies this policy. Created in an open field for the training of professions related to rurality: veterinarian, biology, agronomy, animal reproduction, etc., it receives 30,000 students, of which almost 60% entered through quotas. This university, like no other, has also established evening class schedules for young people who have to work for a living.

Finally, it expanded the field of its disciplines to the human sciences (literature, philosophy).

However, the climate has changed since Jair Bolsonaro came to power. “It used to be an honor when a family member went to university, says Mariene. Now we are viewed with suspicion.” The president’s well-oiled propaganda convinced many families that universities, and especially humanities departments, were fertile ground for leftists and moral laxity. His obsession was therefore to get them in line by drastically cutting their budgets. Most affected were federal public universities, some of which saw a quarter or even a third of their endowments disappear.

“These cuts prevent the increase in the number of vacancies, the replacement of professors, the increase in research projects, the increase in scholarships, for a country that claims to have free thinking”, says Cleo Manhas, from the Institute of Socioeconomy of Brasília.

With 5 million students in the country’s 200 universities, the issue of education is one of the great challenges of the presidential election.

Mayandson, Mariene and Thaïsa, who pursued their studies with tenacity despite the difficulties, are above all afraid of Bolsonaro’s maintenance. Describing the quota system as “mistakes,” he wants to strengthen the private sector and promote evangelical church control over education.

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