Brazil’s leading regional research funding institution has announced a new US$680 million package of long-term investment in 17 cutting-edge areas of scientific knowledge, ranging from neurotechnology, stem cell research and biomedicine, right through to molecular physics.
What’s unique about the initiative, announced May 15th by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) is that it will commit funding to named projects for 11 year periods. Brazil is bucking a trend visible elsewhere, characterised by squeezed budgets and shorter term funding.
The 17 academic centers are known as RIDCs (Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers). These hubs, based at universities in São Paulo state, will bring together the existing work of more than 500 scientists, including 69 foreign researchers. The objective is to create a global center of excellence for multidisciplinary, high impact science.
FAPESP’s funding is additional to the Brazilian federal government’s spending which in 2012 raised the allocation of funds for scientific research in its budget from R$6.4 billion (US$ 3.6 billion) to R$8.5 billion.
The funds allocated by the São Paulo agency represent a substantial increase over the money spent on an existing RIDC program, which has been running for some years. The number of centers increased from 11 to 17 and the yearly funding for each center is larger than in the previous cycle.
What’s remarkable is that FAPESP has developed the financial firepower to protect its long-term funding plans from the ups and downs of the economic cycle. Already it is running projects with 20 year timelines, such as its BIOTA biodiversity program. Endowment investment funds smooth out any fluctuations in the Foundation’s main income, which comes from its formal right to receive a fixed 1% of São Paulo state’s booming tax revenues.
In a financially-constrained world where recipients of three year fellowships sometimes go out in pursuit of their next funding source within months of receiving their first grant checks, 11 year funding is a huge luxury. In those disciplines where results depend on long-term data-gathering, short-term grants undermine continuity and credibility.
So Brazil seems to be bucking a trend. Elsewhere in the world, including the European Union and the United States, scientific budgets are increasingly being limited to more short-term projects. (In the US, President Obama proposed increasing spending on science and research by about 1 percent, to $143 billion in his 2014 budget. It is instead likely to be cut by 5%).
This foundation has earmarked US$370 million of its own multi-year funding (money coming from its formal right to receive a fixed 1% of São Paulo state’s tax revenues), and has secured further commitments from the six state-run universities with which it works closely, valued at another US$310 million for salaries and other infrastructure support for researchers in the RIDCs. Additional funding will be obtained by each center from industry and government organizations.
The first cycle of the RIDC program has been running since 2000, supporting 11 research centers. In 2011, a decision was made to upgrade the program and 90 proposals were evaluated, out of which the 17 awardees were selected. The selection process used 150 Brazilian and international reviewers, an International Committee composed of 11 invited scientists.
The expanded funding initiative signals Brazil’s determination to forge a knowledge-based economy by boosting its industrial potential to accelerate now-flagging economic development. This, policymakers hope, could unleash a new and energetic phase of capturing and exploiting advanced technologies.
Over the last 40 years, Brazil has used technology capture to build a number of successful industries, including aviation (its national aircraft builder Embraer is the world’s third largest); offshore oil drilling (state-controlled Petrobras is embarking on ultra-deepwater drilling to 4,000 meters below surface) and in alternative energy (the Proalcool ethanol fuel program is the world’s largest).
After decades of sending research scientists abroad to gather knowledge, policy initiatives have shifted towards building centers of excellence in-country, and attracting foreign scientists via generously funded visiting fellowships. The RIDC initiative is part of this wider trend.
Each RIDC is expected to establish a hub of excellent research in its focus area. In addition, each RIDC must actively seek out and develop opportunities to have its research results contribute to commercially and/or socially relevant high-impact applications, as well as contributing to education and dissemination of knowledge.
The research topics covered by the centers include the following: food and nutrition; glasses and glass-ceramics; functional materials; neuroscience and neurotechnology; inflammatory diseases; biodiversity and drug discovery; toxins, immune-response and cell signaling; neuromathematics; mathematical sciences applied to industry; obesity and associated diseases; cellular therapy; metropolitan studies; human genome and stem-cells; computational engineering; redox processes in biomedicine; violence; and optics, photonics, and atomic and molecular physics.
For FAPESP, the RIDC financing will become an important component of the regular funding program, which in 2012 distributed approximately US$525 million.
Since 1962, FAPESP has granted more than 110,000 scholarships and fellowships (from the undergraduate to postdoctoral level), supported nearly 100,000 research projects, and contributed remarkably towards improving the research infrastructure and the social and economic development of the State of São Paulo. In 2012, FAPESP received 21,600 research proposals.
You can click on the links below to find more detailed information about each of the 17 research centers:
São Paulo is the most developed and diversified state in the country, contributing 33% of Brazil’s GDP. About half of the research articles published yearly by scientists in Brazil have authors working in the State of São Paulo. The state is responsible for 45% of the doctorates awarded yearly in Brazil.
With 41 million people, it hosts six public research universities, the University of São Paulo (USP), the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), the University of the State of São Paulo (UNESP), the Federal University in São Carlos (UFSCAR), the Federal University in São Paulo (UNIFESP) and the Federal University in ABC (UFABC), and the renowned Aeronautics Technology Institute (ITA).
The state also hosts 19 state funded mission oriented research institutes, such as the Agronomics Institute of Campinas (IAC), the Institute for Technology Research (IPT) and the Butantan Institute, as well as the National Space Research Institute (INPE), the National Center for Airspace Technology (DCTA), and the National Research Center for Energy and Materials (CNPEM), which includes the National Synchrotron Light Source (LNLS).
R&D expenditures in the State of São Paulo reached 1.6% of state GDP in 2011, with 60% of expenditures contributed by the business sector.