Science and Technology policy in Brazil: A new policy for a global world

Simon Schwartzman, general coordination; Eduardo Krieger, biological sciences; Fernando Galembeck, physical sciences and engineering; Eduardo Augusto Guimarães, technology and industry; Carlos Osmar Bertero, Institutional analysis

São Paulo, November, 1993

3. The achievements of the 1970s and the realities of the 1990s.

The scientific and technological competence acquired by Brazil in the last decades is an important asset for its continuous drive for social and economic modernization. There are, however, important questions and concerns about the adequacy of this system of S&T, as it was organized in the 1970s, to achieve what is expected from it. Part of the difficulty lies in the persistence of the assumptions that presided the S&T policies in the sixties and seventies, when faced with the realities of the nineties; and part on the structures and vested interests created along these years.

a. The "endless frontier."

The basic assumptions that presided the development of S&T in Brazil during the sixties and seventies were not very different from those in the United States and other developed countries at the time. In both cases there was the notion of science as an "endless frontier," worth expanding for cultural reasons, for its beneficial effects in the quality of education, and for its promises in terms of practical applications. All fields of knowledge were equally deserving, and all good projects and initiatives should get public support. There were other resemblances: the importance given to military R&D the notion that scientists should be funded by the state, free to control their institutions and distribute research resources according to their own criteria; and the assumption that social and economic benefits to society as a whole would necessarily derive from basic S&T in the universities and military research in government institutions (Branscomb, 1993).

b. Planning

There were also important differences. Brazilians believed more in comprehensive planning, and in planning for science and technology, than Americans did. There was, as there is still, a dire need for reliable information, and stable decision procedures for resource allocation and the establishment of long-term projects. The tradition was to try to fulfill these needs with comprehensive planning exercises, which could be turned into law and administered by the bureaucracy, thus making further decisions unnecessary. Three National Plans for Scientific and Technological Development were issued since the early seventies. Complex coordinating bodies (such as the Council of Science and Technology, CCT) were devised to try to link the research activities of different ministries. The Ministry of Science and Technology was created in 1985 as a response to demands from leading personalities in the scientific community, which expected it to fulfill this planning and coordinating role, emaking it more relevant to the country's economic and social needs. The notion that these links were to be achieved through centralized planning contributed to the development of large bureaucracies for S&T administration. CNPq and FINEP increased their staff several times between the sixties and the eighties, and the bureaucratic apparatus of the new Ministry also grew.

c. Import substitution in science.

Another difference was that the development of S&T in Brazil was understood as part of a broader pattern of import substitution that was dominant in the economy, and led to barriers against foreign competition and the protection of infant industries. Although Brazil never attempted to develop a "national science," and valued its access to the scientific international community(5), the level and intensity of international interchanges was never as intense as that of other small scientific communities (Schott, 1993), and its research institutions and programs were seldom exposed directly to international standards of quality and evaluation. Considerations about regional inequalities and short-term needs, and political pressures for the creation of academic and research institutions throughout the country, led often to the weakening in the criteria for resource allocation by the government agencies.

d. Elitism in technology and education.

A final feature of the Brazilian S&T development effort has been the elitism of its technology and educational policy orientations, despite the political and socially progressive outlook of many of its promoters. Military technology was expected to be the harbinger of economic and technological modernization, leading to a disproportionate concern in government, diplomatic and academic circles, with the international constraints on the transfer of sensitive technologies. The two PADCT programs placed strong emphasis on the higher-end, frontier technologies, with a much smaller place given to science education, management and diffusion. Except in the field of health, there were no organized efforts to bring the benefits of scientific knowledge to the population as a whole, or to the basis of the productive system. In spite of the initial influence of the American Land Grant colleges, Brazilian agricultural education and research remained restricted to a few institutions, and geared to the capital intensive, export sector of the economy (Azevedo, 1993). The recent effort to develop indigenous capability in computer science concentrated in the protection of the national hardware industry, rather than in the generalization of the use of the new technologies and competencies throughout society (Lucena, 1993; Tigre, 1993).

In education, Brazil tried to generalize the university research model before any serious attempt to deal with the problems of basic, secondary, technical and mass higher education. In consequence, the country has, simultaneously, some of the best universities and graduate programs, and one of the worst and unequal systems of basic education in the region. In practice, the university research model remained restricted to a few public universities in the São Paulo and in the federal system. Most other public institutions incorporated the institutional features and costs of modern universities (including full-time teaching, departmental organization, integrated campi, besides free tuition), without adequate mechanisms for quality assurance and the efficient use of public resources. About 65% of the students in higher education do not have access to public institutions, and attend the less prestigious, paying private institutions (Goldemberg, 1993b; Schwartzman, Durham and Goldemberg, 1993). 

Table 2: Brazil, Education figures: population of 5 years of age and above.

Brazil had always been a highly stratified and unequal society. Even when the intention was there, governments had faced enormous difficulties in reaching the broader population with services like education, health and extension work. This situation should be reversed, but this does not mean that efforts to create good universities and competent research groups should be postponed until the problems of basic, technical and secondary education are solved, since these skills and competencies are essential for carrying on the needed transformations. It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that scientific, technological and educational investments could not have had a broader impact on professional education and the dissemination of general and technical competence than they did. They can, but specific policies are needed for that.


5. There were several proposals to create a typically "Brazilian" social science, based on the country's peculiar historical and cultural nature, from Gilberto Freyre to Alberto Guerreiro Ramos. nothing similar, however, ever existed in the natural sciences, except in applied fields such as agriculture, natural resources and earth sciences, as should be expected.