How much public universities contribute to research in Brazil?

. May 11, 2019
brazil research

As Brazil’s fiscal crisis worsens, education has ended up at the forefront of the government’s contingency plans. While lack of funding is nothing new for Brazilian students and researchers, the minister of Education claims that federal universities have become a place for “shambles,” instead of knowledge, sparking a deeper question: how much do Brazilian universities contribute to science in the country?

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There is more than one way to measure the importance of a university. According to Brazil’s Intellectual Property Index, 28 percent of patent requests last year were filed by institutes of education and research, and the government. Large corporations, meanwhile, were responsible for 18 percent of the 7,473 total applications.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Besides quantity, Brazilian research is also recognized abroad. According to the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Research in Brazil</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> report, provided by Clarivate Analytics, Brazil is the 13th largest producer of research publications globally and the country&#8217;s &#8220;citation impact&#8221;—a measure that analyzes how relevant research is for other studies—has increased 18 percent from 2011 to 2016. The study also shows that among the 20 most important Brazilian universities, 15 are federal institutions. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazilian research is also having an important impact outside the academic environment. It was announced this week that a type of bandage developed by the Federal University of Ceará, using tilapia fish skin, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">will be tested in space by NASA</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. The material is used to help human skin reconstruction, mostly in burn victims, but has also been successfully applied in gynecological surgeries. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Among other potentially disruptive research is </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">the Sirius synchrotron</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. The equipment is considered one of the most advanced in the world and is currently being developed at Unicamp, a state university in Campinas, near São Paulo. In addition to providing a great source of energy, synchrotrons can serve for various uses in the scientific and industrial field. Its wide range of possibilities includes petroleum extraction, research in brain formation, determining the composition of chemicals and geological materials, as well as certain treatments of cancer.</span></p> <h2>Political or economical priorities?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Students have quoted these and other examples of successful Brazilian research in order to protest the government&#8217;s intention to cut federal university budgets by 30 percent. There have been demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro and Paraná, with students considering the measure an act of ideological retaliation.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Education Minister Abraham Weintraub argued that </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">the cuts are not definitive,</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> and BRL 5.8 billion will be frozen until the pension reform is approved and the economy starts to improve.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As a way of demonstrating the mathematics, Mr. Weintraub took part in one of President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s weekly Facebook Live streams, bringing with him four boxes of chocolate. Opening each one and spreading out 100 individual candy bars on the president&#8217;s desk, Mr. Weintraub attempted to show that the government weren&#8217;t &#8220;taking chocolate away&#8221; from the universities&#8217; budgets, instead they were saving it to eat later, in September.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, the Education Minister stumbled on the calculation: instead of subtracting 30 percent of the candy (30 bars of chocolate), he only took away three and a half pieces, distorting the entire explanation.</span></p> <p><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">To lawmakers</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, Mr. Weintraub decided not to repeat the chocolate stunt and instead argued the government’s priority should be the elementary education, as well as technical high schools. “It is important to highlight professionalizing schools because the person will learn basic high school subjects and will also have a job to support their family.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Federal government data shows that higher education takes up the largest chunk of the Ministry of Education&#8217;s spending, used as one of the government’s arguments to justify the measures. Also, the ministry budget is the largest since 2015, at BRL 117 billion, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">according to official figures</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. It is also true that </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Education has been targeted by cuts in previous administrations</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, especially Dilma Rousseff’s, during moments of crisis. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Regardless, students claim the cuts are based on ideology, and not economics. Among the affected universities are the University of Brasília, the Federal University of Bahia and the Federal Fluminense University, which the minister said would see their funding cut due to “shambles&#8221; on their campuses, in an interview with </span><a href=",mec-cortara-verba-de-universidade-por-balburdia-e-ja-mira-unb-uff-e-ufba,70002809579"><span style="font-weight: 400;"><em>Estado de S.Paulo</em> newspaper.</span></a></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“University probably has more than enough funding to promote chaos and ridiculous events,” he said, mentioning “homeless&#8221; and &#8220;naked people&#8221; on campus as examples.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Before that, Jair Bolsonaro himself tweeted that the ministry would decentralize investments of humanities courses in order to “focus on areas that will provide immediate returns to taxpayers, such as veterinary medicine, engineering, and medicine”</span></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="pt"> <p dir="ltr" lang="pt">O Ministro da Educação <a href="">@abrahamWeinT</a> estuda descentralizar investimento em faculdades de filosofia e sociologia (humanas). Alunos já matriculados não serão afetados. O objetivo é focar em áreas que gerem retorno imediato ao contribuinte, como: veterinária, engenharia e medicina.</p> <p>— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) <a href="">26 de abril de 2019</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Universities claim that, without the money, they won’t be able to provide </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">fundamental operational facilities such as water, energy and cleaning</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. Funding for poor students will also be compromised. Civil servants&#8217; paychecks, however, are guaranteed by law and cannot be suspended.

Read the full story NOW!

The Brazilian Report

We are an in-depth content platform about Brazil, made by Brazilians and destined to foreign audiences.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at