Problems with education limit innovation in brazil
Problems with education limit innovation in brazil

Problems with education limit innovation in brazil

Today’s world relies on new technologies and innovative solutions to old problems. In order to be truly competitive, countries have to invest heavily in research and development, and create an environment where new business ideas can thrive. Although Brazil has the 8th largest economy in the world, with a GDP of more than USD 2 trillion, it ranks only 64th in the Global Innovation Index (GII), published annually by Cornell University, INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

According to the ranking, Brazil trails behind smaller Latin American economies such as Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico. But why is the strongest regional economy (and one of the largest in the world) not able to keep up with the global need for creativity and development?

That is the exact question which is being tackled by a new book, authored by economist Fernanda De Nigre from Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economics Research (Ipea). “Novos caminhos para a inovação no Brasil” (loosely translated as “New paths for innovation in Brazil”) is an investigation into where the Brazilian gaps lie and what can be done to overcome them. Ms. De Nigri interviewed entrepreneurs and congressmen and divided her findings in seven chapters that try to explain the innovation gap in all of its aspects.

 


innovation r&d spending country brazil


According to her, there are several impediments for the failure of innovation as a whole. First, she believes Brazil’s economic environment does not stimulate new and creative solutions. For that to happen, Ms. De Nigri says, it would be necessary to have more internal competition, “because that is one major driver of innovation.”

It is also necessary to open up the local economy and make it compete on the international stage. That would facilitate the access to new technologies and spur internal development. However, as the economist highlights, this will not work if bureaucracy still stands in the way of production. Therefore, the economy needs to be more dynamic, lowering the costs to create and manufacture.

Education is the main bottleneck

In Brazil, Ms. De Nigri points out that 75 percent of the population lacks basic mathematics skills. In order for a country to have a strong innovative environment, it needs to have human resources capable of working in areas related to mathematics and science. Researchers are the cornerstone of companies and universities, so a country must be able to provide education that will meet these requirements.

Brazil has been improving when it comes to its scientific production. Its share of all articles published in the world has grown from 0.7 percent in 1991 to 3 percent in 2013. But although the volume has been increasing steadily, the publications are not in the areas that are essential for the development of technology. According to the book, there is “a certain disconnection between the areas in which the country is competitive and those that are in high demand for innovation around the world”.


innovation articles published scientific journals


Research and development infrastructure is another area in which Brazil needs to improve, the economist believes. Almost all scientific research is carried out inside public universities; meanwhile, around the world, science goes way further than universities, she says. There are several institutions dedicated exclusively to research, financed by public money, but structured on non-profits and managed in a very dynamic way.

Ms. De Nigri says that the decrease in funding for Brazilian science has been “brutal” and will affect more than a generation of scientists and researchers. One of the most important resources in this area, the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development, lost 60 percent of its resources over the past three years. Not exactly the go-to recipe for a country that “wants to produce serious science and innovation,” she says.


innovation articles published scientific journals researchers


There are measures that could be taken in the short term to help improve the scenario. One is to eliminate all forms of regulation that stall innovation. By, for instance, gradually reducing import taxes, a simple move that could insert Brazil in the global flow of goods. Another way is to strengthen venture capital by simplifying taxation – when an investor sells his or her shares of startups, Brazilian Revenue Authorities claim up to one-third of the money in taxes.

In the long run, it is necessary to increase the investment in science and technology as a whole – be it either in the universities or in private companies. Brazil needs, Ms. De Nigri says, to create a plan to expand the technological infrastructure. And the scientific community needs to be involved.

The book is available free of charge (in Portuguese) on the Ipea website.

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BY Diogo Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a social scientist and journalist based in São Paulo.