South American students and researchers taking to the streets against cuts

. Jul 04, 2019
South American researchers taking to the streets against cuts

In South America, we tend to say Brazil is a giant laying on it’s back. Cultural differences—principally language—tend to push the country away from its closest neighbors. However, the economic crisis affecting both Brazil and Argentina has exposed some sad similarities in Latin America, which may pose a threat to the region’s development. One of the clearest examples of that lies in education. On May 15, the Jair Bolsonaro administration faced its first mass protests after the Ministry of Education froze 30 percent of funding for federal universities. The students’ rage was propelled even further when cabinet minister Abraham Weintraub claimed that university campuses were just a place for “shenanigans.” 

In spite of the massive reaction, the budget remains restricted. One of the areas hit hardest is research. According to news website G1, 6,198 scholarships that would have been granted this year have been suspended by Capes, the agency responsible for providing scholarships and funding for Brazilian researchers. The cuts represent BRL 35 million until 2020 and do not affect students who have already earned their grants. However, it is a blow to those who hoped to continue their research in Master’s, Ph.D, or postdoctoral programs.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Down south, things were not much better for researchers in Buenos Aires, in what was a huge blow to a traditional school of science which has more Nobel prize winners than any other in South America.</span></p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/464460"></div> <p><script src=""></script></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Conicet—the Argentinian agency to support science and innovation—refused more than 80 percent of researchers who applied in their last cuts, not only leaving them unemployed but also interrupting research that in some cases had already taken years. If the agency continues to accept only 450 researchers per year, Argentina will have only 12,000 researchers by next year, below the 14,000 spots intended by the Innovative Argentina 2020 plan in 2013.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Argentinian press believes this is a direct result of the economic crisis hitting the country. </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">The government foresees</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> 2019 will be the second consecutive year of GDP contraction and, while Conicet’s budget has increased 23 percent from 2018, it is way below the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">57.3 percent inflation</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> of the past 12 months. In comparison to 2015, 2019’s budget represents a 30 percent reduction. </span></p> <p><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Conicet’s data</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> also shows a steep loss in the purchasing power of researchers and students. According to </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Conicet’s website</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, they support more than 10,000 researchers and 11,000 Ph.D and postdoctoral students.  </span></p> <h2>Science is taking over São Paulo&#8217;s streets…</h2> <div id="attachment_20158" style="width: 970px" class="wp-caption aligncenter"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-20158" loading="lazy" class="wp-image-20158 size-full" src="" alt="brazilian scientists protest sao paulo" width="960" height="573" srcset=" 960w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 960px) 100vw, 960px" /><p id="caption-attachment-20158" class="wp-caption-text">Researchers fighting against education budget cuts</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The reaction of students and researchers in both countries has been similar. In Brazil, students of the Department of Philosophy, Linguistics, and Humanities (FFLCH) of the University of São Paulo (USP) decided that the debate should leave the classroom and take to the streets. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">During one weekend in June, students went to São Paulo&#8217;s iconic Avenida Paulista and presented their research results to the population, in a movement called “FFLCH in the Streets.” </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Heloísa Vilela, a linguistics graduate and director of CAELL, FFLCH’s Academic Directory, remembers that it started as a movement inside the language faculty and soon spread to students from other courses, professors, and even the dean&#8217;s office. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The situation brought us all together to support our faculty, to support public education. I think it was a very important event,” she recalls. According to FFLCH, 61 scholarships have been frozen in the institution so far and there are no estimates on how many will be reactivated.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Equipped with banners, posters, and pamphlets, the researchers were ready to show bystanders what their work is all about, but realized they had to start from the very beginning. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Many people do not know we have the largest university in Latin America. They don’t know what FFLCH is, or what we do. We tried to explain what we do in a simple way, and why is it important for people outside the university,” she said.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As Brazil’s political environment remains polarized, the humanities courses are seen as being predominantly left-leaning. As part of its ideological crusade against Brazilian education, President Jair Bolsonaro and Education Minister Abraham Weintraub have already diminished the importance of the humanities, saying the government’s priority should be areas such as engineering and medicine. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Despite that, Ms. Vilela, who is a linguistics researcher herself, considered people’s reception largely positive. “The people seemed genuinely interested, they interacted with us. There were a few saying we were communists, but it was a small amount of people.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">She says the Avenida Paulista pilot was so successful that students are now considering a second event, this time in the eastern neighborhood of Tatuapé.  </span></p> <h2>… and Buenos Aires, too</h2> <p><img loading="lazy" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-20155" src="" alt="scientists protesting buenos aires" width="1772" height="1182" srcset=" 1772w, 300w, 768w, 1024w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1772px) 100vw, 1772px" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In the capital of Argentina, scientists took to the streets and the internet. In May, the hashtag #CientificxsEnLaCalle (or scientists in the streets) trended all over social media. It was the result of a performance created by the Compañía de Funciones Patrióticas, an activist group specialized in theater activities.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">They photographed actors holding signs written by researchers themselves, explaining the importance of their jobs, in an attempt to raise awareness of their cause. According to the project’s Facebook profile, their main post was shared more than 7,000 times, reaching </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">5,325,280 people. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Meanwhile, scientists from all over the country signed open letters and organized to put pressure on the authorities. As a result, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">they were granted ARS 1 billion</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, 450 additional research vacancies, another ARS 300 million to purchase equipment, and a tax change to make it easier to import inputs. However, as Juan Pablo Paz, director of the Physics Institute of Buenos Aires, explained to </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">La Nación newspaper</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, to keep Conicet’s budget at 2015 levels, ARS 23 billion would be needed.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Somehow the situation manages to be worse for some than others. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Maximiliano de la Puente, a doctor in Social Sciences from the University of Buenos Aires who researches theater, communication, and social media-related issues, told </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;"> he joined the protest after being left out of Conicet’s funding program. </span><span style="font-weight: 400;"><br /> </span><span style="font-weight: 400;"><br /> </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">He is now considering looking for a Ph.D. scholarship or a temporary job abroad, like many of his colleagues. As a humanities researcher, he is even less hopeful about the future in Argentina. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“There’s prejudice towards humanities and social sciences, just like in Brazil. Conicet accepted only 17 percent of the candidates this year, but in the broader social sciences area, only 7 percent were accepted. There are cuts in all levels, but it is worse for the humanities, which are falsely accused of doing useless research,” he explains.

Read the full story NOW!

Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Before joining The Brazilian Report, she worked as an editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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