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

4. New realities

a. Changes in the role of science and technology in the international scene.

The international scene for science and technology has changed dramatically since Brazil begun its drive for S&T development in the sixties. The main features of the new context can be described as follows:

Science and technology are much closer to industry and markets than before (box 4). Industries depend, for the development of new management skills, processes and products, on specialized knowledge that cannot be generated anymore, as a matter of course, in their daily activities. The consequences have been an increase in R&D investments, the setting up of specialized laboratories and research departments, and the search for new links with universities. There is a renewed concern with the problems of intellectual property, which occurs in association with an expanded knowledge industry, carried on through licensing, technical assistance projects and international consulting.  

Box 4: Fundamental and Economically Relevant Research: The New Links (Georges Ferné, 1993) 

The pace of technical innovation and competition in industry has accelerated, requiring from firms a permanent capability to change its organization, absorb new technologies and processes and generate new products. This is leading to significant changes in the composition of the industrial labor force, with more emphasis given to highly skilled and motivated workers at all levels, and drastic reductions in administrative personnel and non qualified employees. Consequences of this acceleration of the pace of technical progress and intensification of market competition include the growing internationalization of industries and markets and the redefinition of production lines, with specialization in some segments of the production chain, or in some market niches. New associations and mergers, very often with companies from different countries, are also prompted by the high financial costs of R&D and the shortened life-cycle of new products.

Science is becoming more global. The speed, quality and low cost of international information flows bring researchers and research sites into immediate contact. The spreading of technological products and processes by international firms disseminates similar patterns of consumption, organization and work. It is much easier now to have access to the international scientific community than in the past, and the international mobility of talented researchers was also simplified. Simultaneously, there are increasing entrance requirements in terms of the standardization of scientific instruments, language and patterns of communication, leading to new inequalities and concentration of resources and skills.

As the economic and military importance of scientific and technological knowledge increases, there is a growing tendency to limit its diffusion through legislation on intellectual property and governmental barriers to the diffusion of "sensitive" technologies. This tendency, however, is offset by the intense international competition of firms and governments to sell their technologies, and by the lack of well-defined boundaries between academic (and therefore free) and proprietary knowledge. The net result is that the bulk of modern technology is available for countries with the necessary pool of competence in engineering and basic sciences, except for a few military items that can still be controlled by the main powers.

More recently, the end of the cold war is forcing the major powers into a difficult process of downsizing their military establishments, which is altering the traditional association between military R&D, industrial technology and basic academic research. Part of these resources will move to applied fields like health, the environment and energy, and new associations between government, research institutions and private corporations are likely to emerge. In these countries, scientific innovation in the new, civilian dominated context will be likely to be driven by markets and shortterm social demands, rather than by government "requirements"; to be more incremental; more closely related to manufacturing and service; and more cost-conscious than in the previous years (Branscomb, 1993).  

Box 5 - Major Changes in American S&T Policies (Lewis Branscomb, 1993) 

b. Changes in the nature of the scientific enterprise

The "simplest linear model" of scientific development and technological change is being abandoned. It assumed the existence of a pattern of fundamental research yielding discoveries and leading to the experimental findings of applied science, which allowed for acts of invention, which provided the basis of entrepreneurial innovation, creating new products and processes, which were later diffused by imitation and reverse engineering (David, 1992). The current view is much more complex. Scientific discoveries often take place in the context of application; there is no clear-cut distinction between basic and applied work; tacit knowledge and incremental improvements are more important than isolated scientific breakthroughs. One consequence of this changing perspective is that support for basic research has lost ground, when not linked to identifiable products and results.

The development of new patterns of international scientific cooperation, with the establishment of large-scale international ventures such as the Human Genome Project and global research activities in the fields of meteorology, global warming, astrophysics, and regional cooperative projects. While traditional "big science" programs, such as the European Consortium for Nuclear Research (CERN), were characterized by large scientific installations, the recent ones tend to be organized in terms of extended and closely linked networks of scientists and research groups. For small scientific communities, the alternatives are either to participate in some aspects of these ventures, or to lag further behind (box 6).

Box 6 - European Cooperative Projects (Science, 1993) 

Because of its increasing costs, economic benefits and potential dangers, science and technology activities are more closely watched by society than in the past. Public controversies blur the frontiers between technical expertise and common knowledge, and a host of new activities and disciplines linked to scientific assessment have emerged, dealing with questions like technological forecasting, technology assessment and the evaluation of environmental effects of innovation. The social sciences have acquired new relevance in this context, in the study of the economics of science and technology, the understanding of the social processes of education and knowledge production, the interpretation of public controversies, and in the analysis of public policy-making related to the field of S&T.

The traditional organization of the scientific enterprise is under criticism. The division of academic departments and scientific institutions along disciplinary lines is being questioned on its ability to provide the proper training and conditions for interdisciplinary research. At the same time, there are no clear alternatives to the conventional organization of teaching and education along disciplinary lines, bringing a further source of tension between teaching and research. Government agencies for science support are being revised and transformed. The links between universities, government and industry are deeply changed by new patterns of technical education, cooperative research and financing, generating new opportunities and tensions. Traditional scientific careers are perceived as less rewarding, prestigious and secure than in the past, while new professional patterns emerge.

c. Changes in the nature and capabilities of the Brazilian state.

Brazil, which presented one of the world's highest rates of economic growth until the 1970's, did not adapt to the changing international environment of the eighties, and entered a prolonged period of economic stagnation cum inflation from which it is still to recover. Different explanations are given to this fact, going from the exhaustion of the import substitution model that characterized the country's economy since the 1930s, to the political and institutional inability of governments, since the eighties, to carry on long-term policies, in a context of international hardship and intense political competition for public subsidies. There is a clear notion, today, that the State has to reduce its size and its presence in the economy, while gaining competence to set and carry on long-term policies of economic growth, social welfare and environment protection. It is not clear, however, how this change should affect the S&T sector.

This situation of instability and lack of vision affected the S&T sector in two important ways. The most obvious was the reduction of resources for most existing programs, and the lack of perspectives for new projects and initiatives, even when international commitments, such as the loan contracts with the World Bank and the Interamerican Development Bank, required well defined matching funds according to prescribed time tables. Probably more important were the problems of institutional and financial instability. The Ministry of Science and Technology changed name and status several times, budgets allocated to R&D institutions oscillated, and the actual delivery of these funds depended on constant, painful and daily negotiations with often unsympathetic economic authorities at the lower ranks in the bureaucracy. Not only resources were limited, but there was no consensus in government, public opinion, or international agencies, about the importance and role of scientific research, or about matters like basic vs. applied, civilian vs. military, academic vs. industrial research. This instability has been a matter of great concern, given the long time it takes for scientific institutions to mature, compared with the speed in which they decay in conditions of budgetary and institutional insecurity. In the early nineties, the state of Brazilian science and technology can be summarized by the following points:

The federal agencies for science and technology support (FINEP and CNPq) are very limited in their ability to grant resources for research projects. Most of CNPq's resources are used for fellowships, while FINEP is specializing on loans to technology projects in the private sector. On the other hand, São Paulo's Foundation for Research Support (FAPESP), was preserved as an efficient and prestigious institution, and even increased its share of the state's main tax revenue (from 0.5 to 1.0%), supposedly for applied work and industrial development. Several other state-level research support institutions were created in the late eighties, but few are active and efficient.

The administrations of some federal agencies for S&T suffer the effects of swelling bureaucracies, low salaries and political militancy of their employees. Others, on the contrary, are understaffed, and unable to hire adequate persons to fulfill their functions. CNPq has been particularly affected by a permanent tension between its employees and the council's academic advisory bodies. Most federal research institutions, including the research institutes under CNPq, are paralyzed by lack of resources and incentives.

There is no consensus about what to do with the large-scale projects of the past, which are in large part paralyzed by lack of resources. The military doctrine of technological development from the 1970s seems intact within the Armed Forces, in spite of the current constraints. None of the large projects was discontinued - the atomic submarine, the space project (including the development of rockets and satellites) and the construction of military airplanes. The space project is moving from military to civilian control, and the government has sent a bill to Congress to create a Brazilian Space Agency, which would consolidate this transition (Cavagnari, 1993).

Benevolent legislation allows for early retirement (at the age of about 50), with full benefits, of many professors in public universities and the civil service. About 30% of current expenditures in the federal universities are used for retirement benefits, and this figure is growing. Lacking information, it is difficult to know how this is affecting the pool of active researchers, whether they are continuing their activities in other (and sometimes the same) institutions, and how they are being replaced. The general perception is that the private benefits of early retirement, combined with the instability and low prestige of many teaching and research institutions, are depleting Brazil's active scientific community. While this situation does not change, it is important to stimulate the retiring, well-qualified professors to remain productive in other roles, starting for instance new careers as entrepreneurs. Retirements should be used also as an opportunity to open the vacancies to a new generation of young academics and researchers.

Within these extremely adverse conditions, the Ministry of Science and Technology is trying to put forward some ideas and policies for the sector (box 7). One of its main tasks has been to assure a regular flow of budgetary and non budgetary resources to the sector. The proposal for the federal budget is to obtain between one and one and a half billion dollars for the activities under the Ministry of Science and Technology for 1994. The government has decided that a substantial part of the resources obtained through the privatization of public companies should go to the science and technology sector; and recent legislation granted tax benefits to firms engaged in technological development. The official expectation is that these two sources alone could double the resources for science and technology for 1994. The Ministry is also engaged in continuous negotiations with economic authorities for the stabilization of the flux of resources to the agencies, and with international institutions for continuing or renewed support for the S&T sector. The second goal of the Ministry is to continue and conclude some of the large projects that have already started, and are stalled for the lack of resources. The two most preeminent are the space and satellite program and the laboratory of synchrotron light. The ministry has also proposed a bill establishing a unified career structure for researchers and employees in federal institutions. In the Ministry of Education, CAPES, the agency for high-level manpower education and training, maintains a stable line of fellowships and support for graduate programs. Some projects created during the Collor period (1990-1992) to stimulate quality and competitiveness in the industrial sector are still in place, although with very little resources to go on.  

Box 7 - Activities of the Ministry of Science and Technology, 1993 (José Israel Vargas, 1993).