Reading Between the Lines of Rights: A Critical Analysis of International and National Discourses (De)marginalizing Indigenous and Minority Rights to Higher Education
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In UNESCO’s World Declaration on Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century: Vision & Action it is emphasized that access to higher education for disadvantaged groups “must be actively facilitated, since these groups as collectivities and as individuals may have both experience and talent that can be of great value for the development of societies and nations.” Underrepresented groups across the globe, including minorities and indigenous peoples, traditionally endure the most unequal, inequitable, low quality educational opportunities. Discourses regarding this reality at the tertiary level is often overlooked and nearly non-existent, however. This dissertation, therefore, guided by an interdisciplinary theoretical framework relevant to higher education, international human rights law, and decolonial theory, highlights the cases of three specific minority and/or indigenous populations— Afro-Brazilians in Brazil, Bahá'ís in Iran, and Mäori in New Zealand.
This study is guided by two questions: 1) How are indigenous peoples and minorities’ rights to higher education accounted for in international instruments and national laws and policies?; and 2) How do international and national-level discourses compare regarding equal and equitable access to quality higher education for these underrepresented groups? To answer these questions, a mutually-reinforcing critical discourse analysis and interpretive policy analysis approach was applied to study texts specific to minority groups and indigenous peoples’ access to “equal” and “equitable” higher education that meets “quality” standards. The language and culture of legislative and policy measures at the national level (Brazil, Iran, and New Zealand) are compared to international human rights instruments (“binding” and “non-binding”) adopted by entities within the United Nations System. State and international texts selected are specifically relevant to minority groups, indigenous peoples, and the right to education and higher education.
Interestingly, there are some parallels between national and international regulations and policies, and in other instances, there are clear-cut contradictions, and much has to do with evident weaknesses and/or strengths across comparisons. The sociocultural, historical, economic, and political contexts of the three countries are also reflected in the language and content of their legislative measures and policies as well as in the states’ attitudes towards standards of education and identities and recognition of underrepresented groups in international law.