Political Science: Brazilian elections result

"More of the same" promise augurs economic uncertainty  and drift.

“More of the same” promise augurs economic uncertainty and drift.

Brazil’s leftist incumbent president Dilma Rousseff’s won re-election in a bitterly contested poll October 26th. Against a backdrop of 20 percent voter  abstention and an angry, divisive campaign, her 3% margin does not constitute a true popular mandate for the bold changes she has promised for her second term.

The result of  recent congressional and  gubernatorial races  — both of which led to more right-of centre victories and reduced the influence of her ruling PT  Workers Party — also confirms that  Rousseff will still need to govern through coalition, and her second term in Brasilia’s Planalto Palace may look something like the French concept of “cohabitation.” There is  growing popular distaste for the PT’s coalition-making mode of government, whose power-sharing deals with minor parties of all political stripes led to a bloated cabinet of 39 ministries. While Rousseff’s promise of change and a new government and a new style won voter support, it’s not clear how Brasilia’s already muddled power picture will look when the  dust settles.

In her victory speech, Rousseff  restated her willingness to engage in dialogue and promised that a narrowly won victory might  end up bringing more change to Brazil than had she gained reelection by a sweeping margin.

On the economic front, Rousseff’s re-election promises  “more of the same” in terms of  the interventionist style of macro-economic management that has coincided with a sharp  slowdown in economic actovity  for Brazil. Whether the slowdown is attributable to  global economic factors such as China’s dwindling taste for Brazil’s exports —  or to local policy missteps — is a  point of continuing argument.

Analysts said Rousseff’s victory was in  large part due to the strongly distributive policies that have levelled the socio-economic  playing field in favour of Brazil’s poor, by investing  huge sums through conditional cash transfers, public housing and loans for study  and vocational training for the less wealthy. However the implications of Brazil’s continued  leftward lurch are by no means positive for higher education, where  budget resources  for pure science have been quietly transferred to  vote-winning vocational  training programmes.

At  national level, however, science is hardly part of the political debate, despite the fact that just one university in Latin America  (the University of São Paulo) has made it into the  top 250 of the  Times Higher Education‘s global rankings. You can read an article about this  by clicking here.


First TV debate between candidates: science policy plans "rushed and vague."

First TV debate between candidates: science policy plans “rushed and vague.” (Foto Reuters)


While science funding in the federal capital Brasília has been facing an uncertain future, it is positively blooming  in industrial São Paulo, one of the few spots on the global map where long-term research funding is experiencing real year-on-year increases.

Unlike many states,  it will make little difference  to regional science policy or its financing in São Paulo, whichever candidate wins power in Brasília. A “grandfather clause” in the state constitution  that no politician can alter, guarantees that 1% of  all tax revenues must be spent on publicly-funded research.

Science  enjoys "grandfather" status in prosperous São Paulo.

Science enjoys “grandfather” status in prosperous São Paulo.

Though Brasília’s announced federal science budgets rose from BR$8.8 billion (US$3.8 billion) in 2012 to BR$10.2 billion ($5.6 billion) in 2013, funding in 2014 sagged back down  to BR$9.4 billion (US$4.5 billion) as promised new funds turned out to be reallocation of existing budgets, and the real currency took a beating. At the same time, new programmes such as  Science Without Borders promoting overseas study trips for 100,000 youngsters, ate into allocations for more serious scientific projects.

Jacob Palis, president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC),  criticized the electoral promises – or lack of them – made by all major candidates and of the October 5th election.

“Maybe because of the deadline to present the manifestos, which was too close to the selection of the candidates, the proposals seem to be rushed,” he told SciDevNet news service, adding that science in Brazil has been going through a bad patch under incumbent President  Rousseff.

Palis and the ABC are concerned about a science programme Rousseff launched on 25 June to foster collaboration between industry and research institutions. They believe this National Knowledge Platform Programme might simply divert funds earmarked for basic research toward industry.

In any election, populist vote-winning promises tempt candidates – and none more so than the vote-catching boost of 10% in the value of the conditional cash transfer programme that benefits 36 million people, or one family in every four. Both main candidates have pledged to boost Bolsa Familia funding.

Quite distinct from the overall sums available for science funding under a new president – whoever she (or he) may be – there is concern about the efficiency of resource allocation by federal agencies. A recent study by Nature found that although Brazil hugely outspends its Latin American neighbours  nevertheless Peru, Argentina, Chile and Colombia have all achieved significantly higher citation impact than Brazil. You can read an article about science funding across Latin America that includes infographics on impact from Nature by clicking here.

In global terms, Brazil is no longer a meagre spender, being one of an elite group of countries (and the only one in Latin America) able to spend more than one percent of GDP on science. It is now responsible for 2.7 per cent of world scientific production and occupies 14th place in the world ranking, according to science ministry’s figures. About 35,000 scientific papers were published and 14,000 theses were defended in the country in 2012.

In dramatic contrast to the sense of drift  and uncertainty about resource allocation in Brasília, the business of science funding is booming in São Paulo, the city that commands Brazil’s economic powerhouse state. Here, every buck seems to deliver a worthwhile bang.

The boom is visible right across this engine-room of Brazilian science and technology,  producing over half the country’s research output. Much of the funding comes from state  rather than federal sources, and is channeled through the state-administered São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) which in 2013 enjoyed a 7% rise budget to BR$1.16 billion (approx US$510 million).

Rising tide of science funding in São Paulo

Rising tide of science funding in São Paulo

“The investments made by FAPESP have helped São Paulo become a dynamic centre for research whose outcomes make a real difference in economic, social and intellectual fields. These three areas are central to the further development of São Paulo, which is already responsible for half the production of knowledge in Brazil,” said FAPESP President Celso Lafer.

It’s worth noting that Prof. Lafer served under  former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso both as commerce minister and  foreign minister, and that should Neves prevail in  the October 26th election, a PSDB  government at federal level would be more closely aligned with São Paulo’s undoubted strengths as a science research hub.

You can read more details of the allocation of funds to São Paulo universities, higher learning institutes and other programmes in the 2013 FAPESP  Annual Report (in Portuguese).

FAPESP 2013 Annual Report

FAPESP 2013 Annual Report

Over the last decade, São Paulo has enjoyed a tripling of research funding channeled through FAPESP to the state’s three key universities that last year got 75% of the total funding pot. These are University of São Paulo (USP), Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp) and University of Campinas (Unicamp).

In addition the following institutes received 5% of the funding: The Butantan Institute; The Instituto do Coração (Incor) at USP’s Medical Faculty; The Agronomy Institute (IAC), and the Nuclear Energy Research Institute (Ipen).

FAPESP also runs  international programmes to attract  visiting scientists. Its “Excellence Chair” programme for senior foreign talent in 2013 invested BR$1.6 million (US$700,000). Its “Young Investigator” programme for early career post-docs also allocated  BR$1.4 million (US$620,000) in 2013.

Legislation that obliges São Paulo treasury to hand over 1% of all tax revenues meant FAPESP received BR$ 957.04 million in state funds, which rose in line with tax revenues and economic prosperity. The remainder of FAPESP’s budget (almost BR$ 200 million) was made up from endowment funds and transfers from other donors.

According to the FAPESP annual report published 27th August, its US$510 million cash pile helped to fund over 12,000 new and ongoing postgraduate and higher level research projects in 2013. In total, FAPESP received 20,000 requests for research funding.

Half the funding went towards  pure and applied knowledge development, another 39%  went to strengthening    research pathways and the  human resource development, while 9% went toward improving the infrastructure for research, including optimising  conditions at labs and field locations. Recently, FAPESP has invested in such “big-ticket” scientific infrastructures as a light syncrotron, an oceanographic research vessel, a supercomputer array, and a stake in the largest  high-tech  telescope being built in the Andes by an international consortium.

São Paulo universities enjoy steady rise in research funding since  2008

São Paulo universities enjoy steady rise in research funding since 2008

In addition to pure science, FAPESP has a wider mandate to foster knowledge and so supports the arts too. Publication of its annual report coincides with a FAPESP-sponsored show by well-known artist Renina Katz.

Furthermore, it has strong links to industry and as well as co-funding research centres with big firms. In 2013 the São Paulo state government and FAPESP announced the creation of 17 specialist research centres of excellence known as CEPIDS. These centres already employ 499 Brazil-based scientists and another 68 scientists overseas. The CEPIDS benefit from an 11-year, multi-sourced funding package totaling BR$1.4 billion. You can read an article about  CEPIDS and their long-term funding arrangements by clicking here.

FAPESP is also providing seed capital for  tech  and biotech start-ups beginning to cluster around university campuses in São Paulo , amid early signs that Brazil is fostering its own nascent “tropical Silicon Valley.”



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