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

1. Science and Technology in Brazil

Brazil developed in the last 25 years the largest system of S&T in Latin America, one of the most significant among semi-industrialized countries. There are about 15 thousand active scientists and researchers in the country, and about one thousand graduate programs in most fields of knowledge(1). Fellowships keep several thousand students in the best universities in the United States and Europe at any time. The number of research papers in international publications is the highest in the region. Research takes place mainly in the major universities, such as the University of São Paulo, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the University of Campinas and the São Paulo School of Medicine; in research institutes linked to the Ministry of Science and Technology, such as the National Institute for Space Research, the National Institute for Research on the Amazon and the National Institute of Technology; in research institutes belonging to the National Research Council (the Brazilian Center for Physics Research, the Center for Mineral Technology, the Institute of Applied and Pure Mathematics, the National Observatory, the National Laboratory for Computer Sciences, the National Laboratory of Astrophysics, the Emílio Goeldi Museum of Natural History, and the National Laboratory of Synchrotron Light); in the Brazilian Corporation for Agricultural Research (EMBRAPA), linked to the Ministry of Agriculture; in the Oswaldo Cruz Institute, linked to the Ministry of Health; in research centers kept by the largest state-owned corporations, such as Petrobrás (oil), Telebrás (telecommunications), Eletrobrás (Electricity) and Embraer (airplane construction); in research units linked to the armed forces, such as the Air Force Technological Center (CTA); in institutes belonging to state governments, specially in São Paulo, like the Butantan Institute (vaccines), the Biological Institute and the Institute for Technological Research (IPT); and in a few leading private corporations, such as Aracruz Cellose (paper), Itautec (computers), Aço Villares, Metal Leve (mechanical components), Elebra (computers), and others.

Most research activities in Brazil take place in universities. Brazil has about 1.5 million students enrolled in undergraduate programs, 30 thousand in masters and 10 thousand in doctoral programs. About one third of the undergraduate, and most of the graduate students are in public universities, which are free of charges. The remaining one million attends private institutions, which, with very few exceptions, do not have graduate education and research. The Federal government spent about 3.4 billion dollars on higher education in 1990(2), and the state of São Paulo an additional 871 million for its three universities (Goldemberg, 1993b; Durham, 1993; Campanário and Serra, 1993). The gross per-capita costs for students in public universities are between five to eight thousand dollars a year, with most of the money going for salaries and the maintenance of hospitals(3). For research, university professors have to apply to Federal or State agencies, national and international private foundations, or to engage in research contracts with governments, public corporations and, to a lesser degree, private institutions. 

Table 1. Brazil, expenditures in science and technology and Gross Domestic Product, 1980/1990, in US$ millions of 1991(*). 

The development of these activities was accompanied by the creation of a complex system of institutions, which are presently led by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT). MCT is formally responsible for coordinating S&T policy in all areas, directly or through agencies such as the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and the Financing Agency for Studies and Projects (FINEP). Besides, both MCT and CNPq have research institutions under their jurisdiction. The Ministry of Education has a specialized agency to support graduate education in Brazil and abroad, the Coordination for high-level Manpower Education (CAPES).  
Box 1 - Brazilian Science in Context (Thomas Schott, 1993.)

Most states have secretaries for Science and Technology, and legislation providing funds for research to be administered in most cases by specialized agencies. The oldest and largest of these, the São Paulo's Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa (Foundation for Research Support FAPESP), receives about 1 percent of the state revenues, which in 1992 amounted to about 70 million dollars, and profits from its capital investments. There are ten similar agencies in other states. They are supposed to receive between 180 and 320 million dollars a year from similar arrangements (including FAPESP), although in practice they receive much less(4). There is a sizeable network of scientific and professional societies publishing around 400 journals, organizing conferences and lobbying for their special interests and perspectives. An association of industrial research centers in private companies was created recently. Financial data are not very reliable, since there is no clear definition of what the figures on public expenditures in science and technology really mean. They may refer to administrative and financial expenditures, rather than to science and technology as such; they may be distorted by inflation variations; and information about the private sector is scarce. The estimate is that, between 1981 and 1989, Brazil spent between about two and three billion dollars a year in science and technology activities, amounting to about 0.6 to 0.8% of the GDP. Of this, only about 6% came from the private sector, and another 10% from state-owned corporations (Brisolla, 1993; Coutinho and Suzigan, forthcoming; Wolff, 1991). These resources have been subject to high levels of instability in the last several years, in a context of near hyper inflation and economic stagnation.

Impressive as some of these achievements may be, they still leave Brazil as a minor player in the world's scientific community (box 1). Articles by Brazilian authors published in the international literature are less than 1% of the world total. In 1992 Brazil ranked twentieth among nations in scientific production in absolute terms, trailing China, Belgium, Israel and Denmark, and ahead of Poland, Finland, Austria, Norway, Taiwan and Korea (Castro, 1986; Schott, 1993). Links between scientific research and the productive sector are weak, and its impact on the quality of undergraduate and technical education is limited, a few significant exceptions notwithstanding.

Box 1 - Brazilian science in context


1. This figure depends on what a "researcher" is. The Brazilian National Research Council (CNPq) listed 52,863 researchers in 1985, for about 3.5 million persons with higher education degrees. However, only 21.7% of those, or eleven thousand, had doctoral degrees. The number of university professors with doctoral degrees in 1991 was about 17 thousand, or 12% of the total. This figure is also consistent with the number of research proposals presented to FAPESP and CNPq each year (Brisolla, 1993; Martins and Queiroz, 1987; Schwartzman and Balbachevsky, 1992). As for the graduate programs, the figure depends on whether one counts degrees offered or course programs proper.

2. These figures are only rough estimates, because of high inflation and unstable exchange rates.

3. For different perspectives on student costs, see Paul and Wolynec, 1990, and Gaetani and Schwartzman, 1991. The estimation is that hospitals absorb about 10% of university's budgets (they have also other sources of income).

4. The estimate, made by SBPC, is that in 1991 the states were supposed to provide 317 million dollars for research activities, but granted only 84 million. Figures for 1992 were 182 and 82 million. Of the total spent, about 70% came from FAPESP. Brisolla, 1993.