Brazil is planning to overhaul its university system to make it more accessible while also tightening rules to make private institutions more accountable.
The Ministry of Education's proposed reforms include increasing budgets for federal (free) universities and protecting budgets from unexpected cuts.
Foreign capital to finance private universities would be capped at 30 per cent. The proposal also stipulates that half of all places at public universities should be reserved for public-school students and quotas should be set for black, mixed-race and indigenous applicants.
A ministry representative said: "The challenge of social inclusion is one of the central themes of this reform."
The reforms would require universities to establish advisory boards that include teachers and local community representatives.
Tertiary education numbers are lower in Brazil than elsewhere in Latin America. Only 9 per cent of Brazilians aged 18 to 24 are in higher education, compared with 32 per cent in Argentina.
Free (public) universities are highly regarded but offer only a minority (29 per cent) of available places, and entry is highly competitive. Lack of funding over the past decade has prevented their expansion, while lightly supervised private universities have multiplied.
The ministry said that this haphazard increase had promoted the commercialisation of education "completely at odds with the public's interest". The Government's aim is that by 2011, 40 per cent of all student places will be at public universities.
Sérgio José Custódio, an educator and co-ordinator of the Movement Without University, which promotes access to higher education, said: "Reform in this area is essential to make Brazil - a hugely unequal society - more fair."