Globally connected issues and policy systems

The globalization of economic ideologies emerging from the mid-20th century has systematically shaped the political and social environment of Brazil. Further, the transplanted economic ideologies produced social and economic inequalities that continue to shape the reality of communities across Latin America. These unequal realities across communities motivate Brazilian social policies to increase participation in educational institutions and achieve higher education.

Inspired by the experiences of individuals related to larger social and economic inequalities, the researchers developed a survey to measure these inequalities. The survey asked students enrolled in institutions of higher education (IHE) about their experience with globally connected issues. More specifically, the survey items questioned whether they had experienced social policy or human rights issues such as police violence, labor rights, and racism in their daily lives.

The Orfalea Center distributed the survey across six IHE in Brazil. The researchers used a purposeful sample of students enrolled in social science disciplines and held diverse backgrounds and experiences. By partnering with Brazilian IHE, the researchers emphasized culturally responsive and participatory methods for implementing the survey and distributing survey findings.

The survey results of 187 completed surveys showed that the extent to which students experienced human rights and social policy issues varied across institutions. Figure 1 shows that 59.6% of students at participating federal institutions experienced social policy issues 4-5 times a week. Compared to federal university students, 69.9% of students at participating state university students in Brazil experienced social policy issues the same number of times per week.

Figure 1. Number of times students encountered social policy issues per week by institution type. 

(n =187)

Overall, students experienced economic and social inequalities related to globally connected issues at alarmingly high rates. These experiences motivate the establishment of additional policies and interventions that improve the conditions for students in IHE. However, effective approaches to improving institutional quality include gathering feedback from institutional and program participants. The survey expanded from just the experience of globally connected issues to further evaluating student sense of community and belonging. Survey findings can be used to further improve institutional quality and establish academic programs to educate students about policy solutions to globally connected issues.

Sense of belonging and institutional quality

Findings from the survey showed that students enrolled in IHE across Brazil experienced social policy and human rights issues quite frequently. The survey also measured student ratings of sense of belonging and community based on their experience with globally connected issues. Figure 2 shows that 30.1% of students at state universities felt that the statement, “Discussing topics related to globally-connected social policy and human rights issues makes me feel like I belong to a community” described them extremely well. Further, a larger percentage of students at participating federal universities (37.5%) felt that the statement described them extremely well. This statement captures the extent to which open discussion about globally connected issues creates a sense of belonging for students across IHE.

Figure 2. Student agreement with the statement, “discussing topics related to globally-connected social policy and human rights issues makes me feel like I belong to a community” by institution.


The distribution of findings within participating IHE suggests that sense of belonging differs depending on experience with globally connected issues. Implementing interdisciplinary academic programs that address globally connected issues such as police violence, free speech oppression, and homophobia have the potential to increase institutional participation and student sense of belonging.

Research on higher education reports that levels of student sense of belonging and community affect academic performance, political participation, and social cohesion. Moreover, poor educational outcomes lead to lower earnings for individuals over time and further social and economic inequality. Improving institutional quality includes improving the academic and social environment that produces educational, social, and economic outcomes for students.

Rather than holding institutions accountable for economically beneficial outcomes, public policy systems might hold IHE accountable for student social and political outcomes. Institutions can align policies and programs to improve educational, social, political, and economic outcomes by emphasizing student sense of belonging within globally connected communities. Further evaluating institutional quality from the participant perspective provides relevant measurements of policy and institutional outcomes.