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 - Technology and applied science

2 - Basic science and education

3 - International Cooperation

4 - Information and knowledge dissemination

5 - Institutional reform

6 - Goal-oriented projects


Brazil developed, in the last quarter of a century, a very significant effort to build its scientific and technological capabilities, but in the last decade this sector has suffered intensely from lack of resources, institutional instability and lack of clarity about its role in the economy, society and education. Brazil's Science and Technology sector is in need of urgent action. Recent transformations in the world's economy have made a country's scientific, technological and educational competence more important than ever to increase production, raise the standards of living of its population, and deal with its social, urban and environmental problems. Policies for science and technology can only be fruitful in association with coherent policies and actions for economic adjustment, education and industrial development. Policies from the central government can only be effective if they involve the active participation of state and local governments and of business, workers, educators and the scientific and technological community. The proposals put forward in this document should not be seen in isolation, but as a contribution to a much broader effort.

This policy paper was prepared by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation at the request of Brazil's Ministry of Science and Technology and the World Bank, as established by the II Program for Scientific and Technological Development (the PADCT II agreement). The work was carried on with the cooperation of an independent group of scientists, economists and specialists of science policy in Brazil and abroad, which produced about 40 papers dealing with the international context, Brazil's scientific and technological capabilities, the links between science, technology and the economy, and Brazil's institutions for science and technology support. This final document is the responsibility of the projects' coordinating team, and does not express necessarily the opinions of the Brazilian government, the World Bank, the Fundação Getúlio Vargas, nor of the individuals who contributed with specific studies.

The main thrust of this policy paper is that there is a definite need to move from the previous mode of scientific and technological development into a new one, more adequate to the current and future realities. This policy paper presents a summary of what Brazil's science policy was in the recent past, the current situation, an overview of the recent transformations of science and technology in the international context, and puts forward some proposals for new directions. To implement these recommendations, the Brazilian government, with the support of the World Bank and other sources, should establish a high-level task force to evaluate this and other policy studies now being concluded, and propose specific policy measures to be carried on by the Ministry of Science and Technology and other agencies, and to be presented to Parliament to be enacted in law when necessary. The main recommendations are summarized below.


Science and Technology are more important than ever for Brazil, if the country is to raise the standards of living of its population, consolidate a modern economy, and participate as a significant partner in an increasingly integrated and global world. The economy must modernize, and adjust to an internationally competitive environment. Education should be expanded and improved at all levels. As the economy grows and new technologies are introduced, new challenges will emerge in the production and use of energy, environment control, public health, the management of large urban conglomerates, and changes in the composition of the labor force. Strong indigenous competence will be necessary to participate as an equal in international negotiations and in the setting of international standards that may have important economic and social consequences for Brazil.

The new policy should steer away from the extremes of laissez faire and centralized planning. A traditional, laissez-faire approach to scientific and technological development will not produce the necessary competence on the scale and quality needed for these tasks. Large-scale, sophisticated and highly concentrated technological projects are not likely to spin off into education and industrial development as a whole. Attempts to bring the whole field of science and technology under the aegis of centralized planning and coordination run the risk of stimulating large and inefficient bureaucracies, and to stifle initiative and creativity of research.

The new policy should implement tasks that are apparently in contradiction: to stimulate the freedom, initiative and creativity of the researcher, while establishing strong links between his work and the requirements of the economy, the educational system and of society as a whole; and to make Brazilian science and technology truly international, while strengthening the country's educational and S&T capabilities.

To fulfill these tasks, the following recommendations are made:

1 - Technology and applied science:

a. To redirect the country's technology policies, in line with new economic realities. On the short run, policies should be geared to the reorganization and technological modernization of the industrial sector. Permanent policies should exist to induce the more dynamic sectors of the productive system to enter a continuous process of innovation and incorporation of new technologies, to follow the rhythm of technical progress in the world economy. Both approaches require, as the main priority, the incorporation of existing technology to the productive process.

b. Research groups in universities and government institutes should be strongly stimulated to link to the productive system and to engage in applied work, while maintaining a high level of academic and basic research activities. Resources for applied work should not come from the budget for basic activities, but from specific sources in governmental agencies, special programs, private firms, and independent foundations. Applied projects should be evaluated in terms of their academic quality, but also of their economic viability and social and economic significance.

c. The current situation, in which 80% or more of the current expenditures are public, should be changed. This should not be done by reducing further the government's expenditures in R&D, but by stimulating the private sector to invest more in this sector.

d. Government agencies dealing with matters requiring research work, such as health, education, environment, energy, communications and transportation, should have resources to contract research with universities and research institutions on matters of their interest. This practice should prevail upon the tendency of these agencies to create their own research outfits, and their projects should be subject to joint evaluations by peer review and policy oriented authorities. Research institutes and centers in public agencies and state companies should be placed under peer oversight, and required to compete for outside research support.

e. The current military projects should come under technical, academic and strategic evaluation with the participation of selected, high quality scientific advisers, and be either streamlined, discontinued, reduced, or converted to civilian projects.

f. Research programs in applied fields, like electronics, new materials, biochemistry and others, should only be established in association with identified partners in industry, which should be involved from the beginning in setting objectives and in sharing costs; they should be subject to independent evaluations of economic, managerial and scientific feasibility, and monitored on these terms.

2 - Basic science and education

a. Support for basic science should be maintained and expanded, with special attention to its quality, according to accepted international standards. Basic or academic science, broadly understood as research work that does not respond to short-term practical demands, remains essential for Brazil. The information it generates is free, and is the main source for the acquisition and spreading of the basis of tacit knowledge that permeates the whole field of science, technology and education. For a leading country, heavy investments in basic science can be thought of as problematical, since their results can be appropriated by other countries and regions for very little cost. For the same reason, investments in basic science in small scientific communities can be extremely productive, since they allow tapping the international pool of knowledge, competence and information.

b. The existing pool of scientific competence has to be protected. Many of the best R&D institutions and groups are being dismantled by absolute lack of resources, and emergency measures are needed to deter this process. The government should guarantee a stable and predictable flux of resources to its main S&T agencies for their daily routines and "over the counter," peer reviewed research supporting activities. The most qualified research institutions and groups should be preserved in their ability to keep their best researchers and their work and educate new scientsists. The main mechanism for this should be the implementation of the proposed system of "associated laboratories," which should provide stable resources to about 200 research groups and institutions, based on clear procedures of evaluation and peer review. The estimated cost for maintaining this program is approximately US$ 200 million a year; a similar amount will be needed to provide these laboratories with basic equipment and infrastructure.

c. Research institutions, particularly in universities, should be required to play a very active role in the enhancement of undergraduate and technical education, not only through teaching, but also through direct involvement in the production of good quality textbooks, the development of curricula and new teaching methods and programs of continuous education. Adequate mechanisms should be devised to make these activities more rewarding and prestigious than they have been so far.

3 - International Cooperation

Globalization requires a profound rethinking of the old dilemma between scientific self-sufficiency and internationalization. They should not be perceived as contradictory, but as complementary. Brazil has much to gain as it increases its ability to participate fully as a competent and respected partner in the international scientific and technological community. To meet this objective, the following policies should be implemented:

a. Fellowship programs of CAPES and CNPq for studies abroad should be revised, maintained, and eventually expanded. Fellowships should be awarded only to first-rate students, going to first-rate institutions, with a clear perspective of returning to productive work in Brazil. Fellowships for doctoral degrees should be combined with "sandwich" fellowships for doctoral students in Brazilian institutions for reduced periods abroad, and with short-term support for training periods in laboratories and companies. The existence of good quality doctoral programs in a given field does not preclude the need to keep a permanent flux of students to the best foreign universities.

b. Provisions should exist for post-doctoral programs both abroad and in Brazil, and to bring top-quality scholars from other countries for extended periods, or even permanent appointments, in Brazilian university and research institutions.

c. The channels for international cooperation between Brazil, international agencies and institutions, and the international scientific community, should be kept open and expanded. The World Bank, the International Development Bank and the United Nations Development Program have played important roles in providing resources for capital investment, research support and institutional development for Brazilian institutions. This presence should be maintained not only because of the resources involved, but because of what they bring in terms of international perspectives and competence. In the future, such agencies could be very helpful in a process of institutional reform. As a rule, cooperation among scientists, research institutions and private foundations in different countries is established directly, and need the support, but not the interference, of governmental agencies.

d. The issues of protectionism vs. market competitiveness in scientific and technological development should be dealt in pragmatic, rather than in ideological terms. The country should not renounce to its instruments of technological and industrial policy, including tax incentives, tariff protection, patent legislation, government procurement and long-term investments in technological projects, in association with the private sector. Adequate legislation for patents and intellectual property should be established with the understanding that they are necessary for the normalization of Brazil's relations with the industrialized countries.

4 - Information and knowledge dissemination

New and systematic means to incorporate technology into the industrial process should be developed, with strong emphasis on the development and dissemination of norms and standards, information, and procedures for technological transfer and quality improvement. A well organized and properly funded knowledge infrastructure is necessary to assure the easy access of scientists to libraries and data collections in the country and abroad, making use of the latest technologies of electronic communication and networking. It is necessary to make these links effective and transparent to the individual researcher, and to establish mechanisms to bring texts and data to the scientist's working place. The role of CNPq's Brazilian Institute for Scientific and Technological Information (IBICT) should be reexamined in the light of the new technologies and competencies developed elsewhere.

5 - Institutional reform

a. The Ministry of Science and Technology should restrict its role to matters of policy, financing, assessment and evaluation, without carrying R&D activities under its direct administration. Although a cabinet-level position for science and technology is clearly necessary, the very existence of a ministry of science and technology, with all its overhead costs and exposure to political patronage, should be reexamined.

b. The existing system of federal institutions for scientific and technological support should be evaluated in terms of its ability to perform the functions needed by the sector: support for basic research, support for applied projects, large and small research grants, fellowship and training programs, scientific information, norms and standards, and others. Brazil needs a federal agency to provide long term, sizeable grants for institutions and cooperative projects. This was the role played in the past by the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (FNDCT), administered by FINEP. Whether these resources should be managed by FINEP, CNPq or by a new institution should be examined as part of a broad review of the roles, jurisdiction and competencies of the existing agencies.

c. Financing agencies should be organized as independent, state owned corporations, and free of formalistic and bureaucratic constraints. They should be placed under strict limitations regarding the percentage of resources they can spend on administration, and should be supervised by high-level councils with the participation of scientists, educators, entrepreneurs and government officers. They should rely on external advise for their decisions, and their bureaucracy should be limited to the minimum.

d. Research institutions and public universities should not be run as sections of the civil service. They need to be free to set priorities, seek resources from different public and private agencies, and establish their own personnel policies.

e. No research institution receiving public support, and no government program providing grants, fellowships, institutional support or other resources to the S&T sector, should be exempt from clear and well-defined procedures of peer evaluation, combined, when necessary, with other types of economic and strategic assessments. Peer review procedures should be strengthened by the federal and state governments, made free from pressures of regional, professional and institutional interest groups, and acquire a strong international dimension. For instance, research proposals could be easily distributed to international referees through electronic mail.

6 - Goal-oriented projects

The broad changes suggested in this document do not preclude the adoption of well-identified projects linking science, technology and the productive sector, to deal with specific questions and problems and to strengthen the country's capabilities in selected areas. It is necessary to develop a list of main areas of established competence and social, economic and environmental relevance, which should be the focus of future investments; to identify areas that should be phased out, or reduced; and special weaknesses and competencies in need of strengthening and support.