Perspectives for the Brazilian research sector 2019

(29.01.19) In October last year, the candidate for the right-wing Social Liberal Party (PSL), Jair Bolsonaro, was elected as the new President of Brazil. His entry to office has already been accompanied by some staffing changes at senior administrative levels of research policy with significant implications for research cooperation over the next four years.

The aeronautical engineer Marcos Pontes is taking over as head of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication.

The aeronautical engineer Marcos Pontes is taking over as head of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication.

© NASA Kennedy Space Center

The aeronautical engineer Marcos Pontes is taking over from Gilberto Kassab as head of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication. Pontes was appointed shortly after the electoral victory in October. He is widely known in Brazil as the first Brazilian astronaut to take part in a space mission, on board the Russian space ship Soyuz TMA-8 in 2006. He studied at the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA) and completed a master’s degree in systems engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School in California. One of the greatest challenges facing the new Minister will surely be the steadily decreasing budget for the research sector in recent years – after adjustment for inflation, current investments represent around half of the funds issued in 2013.

The Temer government set a budget of R$15.3 billion for 2019. While this represents an increase of R$2.4 billion over the previous year, after deduction of all costs, the Ministry will probably be left with just under R$4 billion for all initiatives over the coming year. This means that the research budget remains largely unchanged in comparison with 2018 – and this also applies for the funding organisation CNPq. Despite mobilisation of the research community, funds for fellowships have been reduced by 26 per cent.

Pontes is aware of the issue and has announced that appropriate measures will be drawn up to increase resources. His focuses include greater use of investments from the private sector in research. “The CNPq is an important stimulus for basic research and we will address this problem over the course of the year,” commented Pontes in an interview with the Brazilian radio station CBN. The stated aims for his term of office are production of knowledge through research, generation of revenue by means of start-ups and an increase in quality of life in Brazil through improved products and services.

After just four days in office, the new government sanctioned a law on the establishment of endowment funds to open up new and sustainable sources of funding for the research sector. This involves the creation of start-up capital – for example through private donations – which can be further increased by new payment receipts. The profits generated can then be used by the relevant organisations to continuously invest in research funding. As an incentive for the creation of new resources, the draft bill originally set out tax relief for sponsors. However, the President vetoed this, citing as justification the enormous budget deficit to be dealt with. This attitude attracted criticism from research institutions.

Staff changes have also already taken place at the DFG partner organisation CAPES, subordinate to the Education Ministry. During his inauguration, the Education Minister Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez announced the name of the new CAPES President: Anderson Ribeiro Correia, professor and Rector at the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA), will manage the institution that the DFG has cooperated with since 1995. Correia studied civil engineering at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), received a master’s degree in infrastructural aeronautical engineering at the ITA and completed his doctorate in traffic engineering at the University of Calgary in Canada. He is regarded as an experienced researcher and has already acted as a reviewer for the funding organisations FAPESP and CNPq, and for CAPES itself.

In contrast to the institutions attached to the Ministry of Science, CAPES has escaped the cuts and has a secure budget for the current year. During the decision on the allocation of funds for 2019, the research community obtained a budget increase of 6.77 per cent, and therefore an additional R$2.682 billion for the awarding of fellowships. However, in the view of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC) and other academic institutions, even this increase is not sufficient to meet the great demand for research fellowships.

In addition to the many variables, some constants still remain: for example, the DFG-CAPES announcement for funding of bilateral projects in legal fields. This will allow funding of up to ten German-Brazilian projects. The proposal deadline is 28 February.

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