About to graduate in administration, the São Paulo native from Indaiatuba, Greater São Paulo, Kaique Pereira de Jesus, lives, at the age of 24, in a very different reality than his own a few years ago and also that of his entire family.
Working since the age of 16 as an apprentice and assistant, he managed to finish school, take a popular course and be approved, in 2017, for graduation at the new Osasco campus of the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), by the National High School Exam ( Enem), with the help of quotas for black and public school students. He will be part of the seventh class to graduate from the school, which opened in 2011.
Today, Kaique is in his third stage in the heart of São Paulo’s financial center: he works for a large bank in the capital and receives a scholarship close to R$3,000.
The value is even higher if you add up the R$850 in meal vouchers, which, while you work from home during the pandemic, is what the supermarket of the family of six people with whom you live with is paying.
With my first scholarship, working six hours, I already earned the same as when I worked as an assistant, but there I worked 10 hours a day, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays. For our reality here at home, it’s surreal.
Kaique Pereira de Jesus, student
Even as an intern, Kaique already has the highest income in the house. He is the first in the family and still the only one of the five children on the way to higher education.
The mother, a maid, has always earned close to the minimum wage (R$1,100 in 2021). The stepfather – his father died when he was a child – has worked most of his life as a self-employed person and has a fickle income.
With the new level of earnings in the internships, Kaique managed to improve both his life and that of his family. The extra rent money allowed them to move into a three-bedroom house – the previous one had three rooms in total for six.
He also got a driver’s license and is paying the installments for his first car, which should shorten the trip of nearly two hours by public transport to the office when he returns to work in person.
In the worst moments of the pandemic, he was also the one who ended up turning the mainstay of the house and guaranteeing the rent to the electricity bill: the mother was released from her job as a maid, the younger brother lost his job as an apprentice and the stepfather’s business, a stonework, it took a long time to gear up.
“The scholarship was a ‘superupgrade’”, says the student, “I was able to help a lot more at home, help my siblings too and, for us, it was very good.”
Kaique is part of a slow and gradual revolution, which has gradually gained new phases, but which completely changes the lives of the people it reaches.
They are the first generations of entire families to reach higher education, thanks to a set of policies built over the past two decades that have helped expand access to college.
In the early 2000s, these were the first major quota programs. Over the decade, public scholarship and financing programs such as ProUni and Fies were consolidated, which, in turn, drove the growth of private colleges.
From 2010 onwards, the units and vacancies of federal universities would be expanded, many of them open in regions that would see a public institution of higher education for the first time – from the periphery of large cities to the hinterland of the Northeast and the interior of the Amazon.
The total of federal campuses, which totaled 152 across the country in 2003, jumped to 334 in 2018. Between 2009 and 2019, undergraduate enrollments increased 44%, from 5.9 million to 8.6 million students.
It is a process that has been around for a long time, but which, in a country where only 16% of young people and adults have completed higher education, is still taking members of many families to university for the first time.
Double the salary in four years
Each time this happens, the result is almost standard: with more than half of the population living on less than the minimum wage, in low-skilled activities and in which professional progression is almost nil, low-income youth who manage to stick the border to university takes very little time to reach or even surpass the salary that the parents will earn their whole life.
It is a phenomenon that, while for upper and upper-middle class families it seems strange, for the poorest it is not widely common because the challenges for them to place and keep their children in college are still many.
They range from the lack of advantages in the dispute for vacancies and competition from an early age of work with studies to the difficulty in paying the monthly fee or even ancillary costs such as transport and food.
“The university introduces the idea of growth always, of renewing itself throughout life. The previous generation, in addition to having much less access to higher education, was not taught to learn throughout their lives”, says economist Marcelo Neri, director of FGV Social, the public policy research center of the Getulio Vargas Foundation.
A study carried out by Neri in 2018, crossing population data from the National Household Sample Survey (PNAD), showed that for every year of higher education completed in Brazil, a person’s income increases by 21% compared to what they earned before or to those who were left behind. “With a four-year college degree, income will practically double”, says the economist.
“We have several students now entering the job market and, as the vast majority are from the region, from poorer families, they will certainly start receiving much more than their parents”, says the dean of the Federal University of Southern Bahia (UFSB), Joana Angélica Guimarães, who is also vice president of Andifes, an association that brings together the deans of federal universities in the country.
Created in 2013 in Itabuna, UFSB began training its first classes in 2018 and serves approximately 45 municipalities around Ilhéus and Porto Seguro, where, until then, there was no public university.
The prices of internships in the region are much lower than in the financial center of São Paulo – in the range of R$ 400 to R$ 800, according to Joana –, but they accompany the local income.
“There are many informal workers and many people from rural areas who earn less than the minimum wage”, says the educator. “Our university is an example of the impacts of expanding the offer of vacancies; many would not be able to move and stay in Salvador to study.”
While only in 2019 the total network of public universities in the country reached the mark of 50% of black and brown students, at UFBA there are more than 70%, the vast majority coming from public schools and from families with a per capita family income of less than a minimum wage.
“It’s a very different reality than when I started college,” recalls Joana, who left the rural area of Itabuna with her six siblings and parents at age 15 to study and was the only black woman in her geology class in Rio Grande do Sul, where he graduated in the 1980s.
“I felt out of place, ugly, I didn’t have any clothes, I was treated very poorly in several situations”, she says. “At the time I was an exception. Policies such as quotas and expansion of vacancies certainly help a lot.”
door to formality
In addition to higher wages, crossing the tertiary education line also widens the path to another valuable job market security in a Brazil of high unemployment: formality.
During the pandemic, which took the country to record levels of unemployment, it was young people who suffered the most, victims of competition from more experienced workers willing to receive the lowest wages.
The unemployment rate among people aged 18 to 24 is today at 29.5%, compared to 13% when considering the total population, according to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).
Factors such as registered employment and a university degree, however, act as a kind of shield at a time when many self-employed and informal workers, historically deprived of protection policies, were left with no alternative to the lack of work. Among workers with a degree, unemployment is only 7.5%, almost half the national average.
Young people were the group most affected by the pandemic, and low-income youth lost even more; but the college-educated youth is somehow more protected. The pandemic may, in the end, exacerbate this division and inequality.
Marcelo Neri, director of FGV Social
In Kaique’s house, for example, it was the intern at the large bank who continued with the work carried out during the pandemic and handled the household expenses while mother, stepfather and brother had lost their income.
It’s a story similar to that of Rayssa Moura, a 21-year-old student from São Bernardo do Campo, in Greater São Paulo, who graduates this year in an occupational therapy course at a private college where she got a scholarship.
Both the mother, a cleaning lady, and the father, a scaffolding assembler who works odd jobs for large companies, had temporary jobs that were interrupted at the beginning of the pandemic.
It was Rayssa and her sister, a recent graduate in journalism and a network employee, with the help of her younger brother, who handled the household bills in the meantime – including the health plan they started paying for her mother, now 50 years old.
“I told her not to look for another job right now,” says her daughter. “Because of the cleanliness, she has several problems with her spine, she is now undergoing physiotherapy and acupuncture, and we are taking care of everything.”
Rayssa was promoted in the middle of the year at the therapeutic clinic where she was intern, and saw the salary of R$1,000 rise to the range of R$3,000 – an amount that should still be higher when she is effectively graduated.
In addition to keeping the mother away from physical exertion, the higher income also brought a series of improvements and small perks to Rayssa and her home.
“We never had lunch out, I had never been to Outback and now I can go. We managed to get a letter, we go back to the beach, I started therapy, and my mother, who spent almost ten years without seeing her mother because of her financial conditions, now travels twice a year to Bahia”, says the university.
They are small treats, but I see that our quality of life has improved a lot.
Rayssa Moura, student
The fear of specialists, now, is that this evolution, already slow for the size of the Brazilian educational deficit, will end up interrupted, in a mixture of ruptures from the pandemic, which took many young people out of their studies, with a reduction in incentive policies.
The proportion of “neithers” – young people who neither study nor work – rose from 22% to 29.5% during the pandemic, according to Marcelo Neri, from FGV Social.
Both the government’s supply and demand for ProUni and Fies scholarships are falling, while many new graduates, without jobs, are unable to pay for the student loans they already had.
The expansion of vacancies in federal universities lost strength and, according to surveys carried out by Andifes, the government budget for them has been falling since 2015.
“Unfortunately, there is a very unfavorable situation and, despite the trend of improvement, it is possible that this rise that we are witnessing is slowing down,” said Neri. “Perhaps, from Covid onwards, we have a broken generation, between the young people who have advanced and those who will now be left behind.”
Reference: CNN Brasil