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Brazil cuts its science budget

Posted on behalf of Anna Petherick

Only a few months ago Brazilian scientists were brimming with optimism for the future of research — and under their former and famously charismatic president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, science and technology blossomed. They expected the same from Lula’s replacement, Dilma Rousseff. She took office in January, promising to continue Lula’s policies.

But late last week, Rousseff vetoed the 2011 budget for the Ministry of Science and Technology. The R$7.4 billion ($4.4 billion) total, which had already been approved by Congress, was slashed to R$6.4 billion ($3.84 billion). There has been no formal announcement about where the money will be cut, but a report in Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo [subscription only] claims that R$610 million ($366 million) will come from the ministry’s “investments” and R$354 million ($213 million) from money earmarked for “expenses”.

So where does this leave Brazilian science? Oddly perhaps, top science administrators are not terribly concerned.

Other ministries, such as the Ministry of Defense, have also been asked to tighten their belts to a similar extent while the government tries to reduce the overall approved budget by R$50 billion ($30.02 billion) this year (see AFP report).

“The government is concerned about inflation, which is a very good thing to be concerned about, so I think scientists can understand some local restrictions.” says Jacob Palis, president of the Brazilian Academy of Science. “I also believe Dilma Rousseff is absolutely committed to increasing spending on R&D and that the government will find a way to go around these cuts. We may have some good news about that soon.”

He adds that Brazil is still aiming to increase R&D spending from its current level of 1.2-1.3% of GDP, to 1.55% over the next four years.

Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, scientific director of São Paulo funding agency FAPESP, puts the cuts down to the tendency of Brazilian governments to spend heavily in the run up to presidential elections, and the subsequent need to make some fiscal adjustments afterwards.

Is he at all worried that this might reveal a flagging enthusiasm for science in Brazil? “No, I think the federal government values science,” he says.


  1. Report this comment

    Hervaldo Sampaio said:

    This is a bad news. Brazil has the opportunity to became a developed country changing from a raw material provider to higher value industrial product provider. This news goes agains’t this goal.

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    Nicolau Werneck said:

    Only today I saw this inconspicuous article about the first bad surprises for science in the new Brazilian government!… Congratulations to Nature for posting some update after that article last year that did not please me at all.

    Well, it seems everything is still happy, shiny and optimist in the Country of the Future, isn’t it? But let me bring up my favorite subject again (Disclaimer: this is a biased blog comment, I receive a Capes scholarship). Graduate scholarships lost already 16% value due to inflation since June 2008 this same high inflation the government is rightfully fighting against. But while minimum wage is updated every year (though this year the raise was unexpectedly low, just right on the inflation index), professors got raises, and some other scholarships got raises too in this period (including FAPESP this month), us 60.000+ students who live on CNPq and Capes scholarships remain under the “salary tourniquet”.

    Many of us will be the university teachers of tomorrow. In fact, some are becoming university teachers right now after the exclusivity condition was relaxed last year. What is the long-term strategy? Are these scholarships intended to help the best students to prepare to become great teachers tomorrow, or are they just complimentary financing like some other Bolsa Família, to help bad-paid professors to continue studying while already giving classes?…

    Don’t tell me I was naive to wait for a raise (i.e. an inflation compensation). The 2008 raise was huge, and was announced along a great an optimistic speech of how science in Brazil would grow like a rocket “at Chinese rates”. Also the Post-Graduation National Plan (PNPG) recommended a large raise in the stipends values. This is a much different scenario from the late 1990s when the stipends were frozen. By the way, the Plan for 2011-2020, has already been delivered to Capes in the end of last year, but 4 months later it still hasn’t been made public. I am anxious to see what is the current recommendation there.

    Still on the topic, there is a petition created by the National Association of Graduate Students asking for a raise, an also protesting against the budget cuts and other things. 40.000+ signed already… http:/

    One last comment: there is an interesting statistic regarding Brazil’s science and education that I think deserves more study, and maybe Nature could look upon it. The number of students enrolling and graduating in Brazil has been decelerating a lot lately. In fact, while x new Federal universities were created in the last administration, a fact exhaustively mentioned in the last presidential campaign, the number of students graduating in the public universities has stopped in 2004, and even decreased in the following years. This is true picture of what is going on here.

    Some “good” reasons for that are that there was an existing demand for tertiary education that would have been quickly satisfied in the early 2000, and also that the population growth in Brazil at the 18-25 age segment is getting quite low. But I am not very sure these “good” reasons explain the whole thing, there may be some “bad” reasons behind that. The share of the Brazilian population that get in universities is still quite low, there is still a lot of place to grow this number of university graduates, and I look at that index with much concern. We never stop hearing news that we have open jobs in the industry waiting for all kinds of qualified labor.

    I will repeat the statistic because I think this is very important and should receive a lot of scrutiny: the number of graduates from public universities was growing fast until 2004. It grew 80% from 1999 (112,451 public school graduates that year) to 2004 (202,262). That is a 12% per year mean growth. Then all of sudden this growth stops. In 2009 there were 187,804 graduates in public schools, 7% less than 2004. The 2004 mark became a kind of a “record” after years of stable and high growth, never surpassed in the following years. The total number of graduates grew because of the private schools, but the curve still has a strong inflection in 2005. What is going on?

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