Budget cuts represent great challenges to the future of Brazilian research and science

Publicação: 7 de March de 2018

Investment in ST&I is vital for a Country’s sustainable, economic and social growth

Budget cuts threaten the performance of the national ST&I, undermine the possibility of economic recovery and may seriously affect the population’s life quality and the Country’s sovereignty

On December 13, the National Congress approved the Budget for 2018, with 19% cutbacks for Science, Technology and Innovation (SC&I) compared to 2017. The amount is equal to 40.5% of the 2016 budget. For this year, BRL 3 billion [~USD 925 million] are expected, a number BRL 1 billion [~USD 308] below 2017. For a long time scientists and students had not been so committed to show the population the effects of the cutbacks. National entities, representatives of the scientific, technological and academic communities and state ST&I systems have addressed the constituted authorities and the society to protest. These entities had previously warned about the severe consequences these budgets mean to the Country, that threaten the operation of the national ST&I system, compromise the possibility of economic upturn in times of economic crisis and may seriously affect the Brazilian population’s life quality and the Country’s sovereignty.

To Expedito Luna, researcher at the Epidemiology Laboratory at the Tropical Medicine Institute of São Paulo University, these drastic budget cuts in the 2018 public funding for ST&I, the lowest in the decade, put Brazil’s future at serious danger. He explains the financial return in science and technology are from middle to long terms. It ensures the Country’s entrance in the 3º millennium economy, the ‘age of knowledge’. “Unfortunately the policy of the current Brazilian leaders drives in the opposite direction. Cutting an already insufficient budget will keep reaping research groups and encouraging brain drain” he emphasizes while alerting that not even the primary sector, agriculture and livestock, will remain unaffected, since they too rely on science and technology in order to keep up in the competitive international market.

In the opinion of BSTM former president, researcher and Professor Carlos Henrique Nery Costa, each generation announces the future through discoveries and technological innovation. “Brazil is a country that little invents, little discovers, in part due to the fragility of its institutions that are not strong enough to innovate, to create high-level knowledge, and in part due to the population’s low educational level. All of this conspires for Brazil to be a late country and unable to think about its future. This way, we remain importing knowledge and technologies because we are unable to create them, to invent them. Likewise, workforce and market dimension, innovation is one of the main strategies to overcome underdevelopment. In the close past, this was one of the main policies, which unfortunately was summarily reduced. This condemns us to underdevelopment and makes us an alienated nation, a modern colony”, he says.

Senator Ana Amélia Lemos (Progressist Party-RS) regrets that the severe fiscal and financial crisis in the public sector makes strategic sectors, as ST&I, to be strongly affected. “Unfortunately we find ourselves in this situation due to mistakes from previous administrations that did not care for public account stability. Now we are paying a very large bill. The previous government applied funds destined for research and invested in the Science Without Borders program, which would be useful if used to graduate masters and doctors. However, what really happened was many youngsters in undergraduate courses traveling abroad to study English”, she says. The senator questions the cost-benefit of the SWB program. “How many things do we have to do now, amidst this crisis, to help cities facing the risk of tropical diseases epidemics? This was a precious resource for research and development investment, that we need more than ever”, ensures the senator.

“I bring to this discussion the infamous budget freeze for the next 20 years, approved by the National Congress under applauses from the large media and the ‘market’. These decisions have consequences. The current yellow fever epidemic may be the first. I imagine those who supported the freeze are celebrating the outbreak, since it is the first outcome of their bill”, criticizes Dr. Expedito Luna. He still argues that investments in the vaccine industry modernization are far below what is needed. The disease surveillance and control activities are increasingly underfunded, including the public health laboratory network, vaccination activities (that are not simply producing and purchasing vaccines) and vector control. “It surprises that the Country is currently passing through one of the most severe health emergencies in the recent years and there are no campaigns in the media to clarify the population about vaccination, while we know that millions are being spent to buy congressmen and media campaigns to support the Welfare Reform Bill.

Dr. Carlos Henrique stresses the act of limiting investments in science and technology is the same as investing in underdevelopment, it is almost the intention to maintain Brazil as an underdeveloped country, unable to reinvent or contribute to the World. “Besides this, Brazil is the largest tropical country in the world and one of the most important in the Tropics, besides India, in knowledge generation. Why does this happen? Because tropical countries are poorly able to generate quality knowledge and technology, so, they import knowledge and technologies less adapted to tropical climates, especially for agriculture and medicine. This way, the imported technologies become more expensive, since we have to pay for their adaptations. This is one of the reasons that determine underdevelopment”, he says. Still according to UFPI’s professor, Brazil could be the star of the Tropics; it could be a Nation able to irradiate knowledge and technology to the entire tropical world. “But no, now it resigns to remain as the Tropics have always been: as colonies, one way or another, of developed, non-tropical countries”, he adds.

Asked about what could researchers, professors, students, scientific entities, education and research institutions can do in face of the cutbacks, Dr. Expedito Luna admits he was never a pessimist, but this time he foresees the recovery from the damage caused in these two years after the impeachment will take some decades. “Us, health researchers must keep fighting and resisting, but I confess it is difficult”, he regrets.

Lastly, Senator Ana Amélia Lemos reminds that he is the author of a Bill of Law to regulate Asset Funds in Brazil, already approved in the Senate and currently under analysis in the Chamber of Deputies (PLS 8694/2017). “They will serve as a savings account that will be made from donations by people and companies. This mechanism will act as an alternative source to fund researches in universities and other public and philanthropic institutions. This is a common model in the USA and in England”, she ends.…