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ST&I indicators

Leap forward calls for change

Study reveals that Brazil's performance is growing, but the advance of knowledge still needs to be incorporated by the productive sector

eduardo cesarWith one foot planted in the vanguard, and the other tied to the shackles of backwardness, Brazil is a surprising country. Speckled with “islands of excellence”, where technologically noble products are generated, it lives with schooling standards that are considered low, even if compared to its Latin American neighbors. Its scientific élite is the equal of the best in the world, while the majority of the school population lacks laboratories and personal computers in the public schools. The government finances the major part of investments intended for research and development (ReD), contrary to the world-wide trend in the developed countries or those with more dynamic economies, where companies are the preferential locus for innovation.

Permeated with contrasts, this is how the country emerges from the study entitled Indicators of Science, Technology e Innovation in São Paulo – 2001, produced by FAPESP. A work that maps out the various faces of the scientific/technological system in São Paulo and in Brazil, it shows that – despite all the contradictions – Brazil is advancing, innovating, and producing, albeit at a pace that is still slow for its needs and ambitions.

In the geography of Brazilian innovation, São Paulo enjoys a much more comfortable position, in comparison to the rest of the country, according to several of the indicators gathered by the book. It is the state that spends most on ReD, and it boasts the largest number of researchers and of intensive centers for technology, besides keeping at school practically the totality of children between 7 and 14 years old. Even so, as it will be seen, São Paulo’s technological project is still a work under construction.

For Francisco Romeu Landi, the presiding director of FAPESP’s Technical/Administrative Board and the coordinator of the study, the Indicators, with their concrete and exhaustively pored over information, help to build up a clearer picture of the current situation of schooling, research and technological production in the state and in the country. “It is an X-ray of the sector that can indicate trends and priorities for drawing up policies and for decision making”, he points out.

Brazil today occupies an intermediate position in the ranking of nations that invest in the production of knowledge: around US$ 6.5 billion of or 0.87% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This amount puts the country on a level with economies like those of Italy (1%), Spain (0.9%) and Hungary (0.7%), though it lags behind the most dynamic ones, such as the USA (2.7%) and South Korea (2.5%).

Of this expenditure – modest for a country that needs to evolve in the sector – over 65% comes from public coffers, in an inverse proportion to what is seen in developed countries, where companies account for roughly 60% of the funds. One of the signs of the low involvement of the business sector with technological research is that it absorbs a very low number of postgraduates, in particular doctors, something that contrasts with the situation of countries that were industrialized more recently, such as South Korea and Taiwan.

With regard to Brazil, São Paulo invests slightly more: between 1995 and 1998, the state spent about 1% of its GDP on research and development, in amounts that exceed those for Argentina, which has a very similar population and GDP. The average of the expenditure by the state of São Paulo in the same period (US$ 2.5 billion) corresponded to about 38% of the total national spending in 1999. Public and private investments in research can have a great economic and social impact. An example of this is the performance of São Paulo’s agriculture between 1948 and 1998, when gains in productivity of over 150% were recorded.

The indicators show that the figures for farm production value and land productivity in this period grew together with the development of new technologies, at the same time that the figures for the prices received by the farmers showed a declining trend. The expansion in the supply of farm products brought as a result a reduction in prices for the final consumer. From another point of view, and taking as a basis wages in the building industry, duly deflated, it can be seen that the purchasing power for food among lower income consumers increased 180% from 1980 to 1999.

The results suggest that the wages of a building worker in 1999 bought three times more food than in 1980. As to the business segment, the figures are controversial, and various surveys are still being made. Nevertheless, figures from the National Association of Research, Development and Engineering in Innovative Companies (Anpei in the Portuguese Acronym) indicate that companies from São Paulo had a share of 71% of the total expenditure in ReD by companies in the country.

Out of tune
In a world where scientific knowledge is increasingly incorporated into products – from the most simple, like those displayed on supermarket shelves, to the most sophisticated, such as telescopes that scan the universe – Brazil has multiple challenges to overcome. Among them, to get rid of the contrasts and lack of harmony that hamper the country’s development, such as the barriers that exist between a strong research sector and weak productionof technology. “It is enough to read the figures of the Indicators to realize that Brazilian companies need to invest about ten times morein ReD, something that is being done in economies similar to ours. Unless this happens, we will not be able to take off”, reckons FAPESP’s president, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz.

One of the signs that knowledge doesnot perform a central role in the business strategy of Brazilian companies lies in the registration of patents. This is asensitive thermometer of the degree of technological evolution of a country, particularly because, over recent decades, it has been concentrated insophisticated sectors like electronics and pharmaceuticals. According to the figures gathered for the Indicators, patents granted in Brazil to non-residents (in general, transnational companies) account for 85% of the total.

Besides being sparse (15%), Brazilian residents are represented by private individuals, in the majority of cases. This proves that the number of companies controlled by Brazilian capital that invest in technological knowledge is limited. As to the transnationals, their cutting edge research centers are located outside Brazil, though some of them do carry out experimental development work in the country.

The details of international trade also reflect the fragility of Brazil’s technological production. In 1989, the country’s balance of trade was over US$ 16 billion in the black, thanks to the surplus recorded from products with intermediate technological content. Ten years later, the pattern of international trade showed a different outline, above all as far as imports are concerned, which brought the balance of trade to a deficit of US$ 1.2 billion. The high technology products that used to account for a little less than 30% of total imports leapt to over 43%. The results achieved in the period, however, prove that the opening up of the economy carried out at the beginning of the 90’s contributed towards improving the capacity for generating innovation in the country.

Responsible for 50% of the national GDP, the state of São Paulo showed a more contrasted pattern of international trade, regarding imports: amounting to roughly US$ 8 billion in 1989, they exceeded the US$ 20 billion mark in 1999, with a greater concentration on high technology products, the share of which increased from 36% to roughly 50%.

It is visible, though, that the lack of robustness in the more “noble” sector of technological production has exacted its price, in the form of unbalance in trade. Brazilian exports of these products, which account today to about 5% of the total, are due mainly to the performance of the foreign sales of aircraft manufactured in São José dos Campos (SP).

Quality and competence
The aerospace complex set up in this region is a revealing example that Brazil has first class research ready to be transformed into products. The Indicators also mention the centers installed in Campinas (telecommunications and information technology) and São Carlos (optics and new materials), regions of São Paulo that are internationally recognized as center of excellence in the production of high technology. These centers – besides a few others set up in the country – are above all the result of a successful alliance between researchers and businessmen, both endowedwith great entrepreneurial strength.

To a large extent, this solid competence stems from the setting up of a public network of higher education and research (one of the pillars that support scientific/technological development) that is relatively recent in Brazil. It started to be put together at the beginning of last century, but it was only in the mid-Sixties that undergraduate andpostgraduate studies were linked together in a more organized manner, to make up today’s “powerful” system, as classified by Brito Cruz. In spite of the difficulties that it still faces, it is a mature apparatus, and well represented by several areas of knowledge, to the point of being a benchmark for other developing countries.

São Paulo holds a hegemonic position in Brazilian higher education. With around 23% of the country’s population aged between 18 and 24, the state tookup 32% of the enrollments in higher education in 1998. As to post-graduation, in thesame year about 32% of Brazil’s master’s degrees and almost 66% of its doctorates were awarded in the state. The other celebrated parameter for assessing quality, the number of scientific articles published abroad, has grown extraordinarily in the last few years. Indexed Brazilian publications on the databases of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), located in the USA, grew from 3,204 to 12,168 between 1985 and 1999.

Taking into account that the ISI’s databases grew 34% over this period, the Brazilian share almost tripled as a percentage of the database, having accounted for some 0.4% of the total of world-wide scientific literature in 1985 and 1.1% in 1999. However, about 50% of the indexed publications of the ISI’s databases in the period between 1981 and 1993 originated from just ten university campuses. In this ranking, the University of São Paulo (USP) stands out as the institution with the largest number of publications. Also prominent in São Paulo are the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and the São Paulo State University (Unesp), whose contributions to the national scientific production have also been significant.

In 1999, the three institutions published, respectively, 3,033, 1,238 and 767 indexed articles, which represented 24.9%, 10.2% and 6.3% of the total of Brazilian publications. Among the federal institutions, the foremost were the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), which registered sharp growth in the number of publications on the ISI databases.

Basic network, a challenge
The extent and the quality of basic education (which covers the primary and secondary levels) are paramount conditions for the country to be able to respond to the challenges put forward by the new technologies, where the growing degree of complexity requires there to be, from the shop floor upwards, a trained and multi-task labor force. Therein lies the importance of including in the Indicators specific studies covering this school network. Besides the quantitative data, qualitative analyses of schools and their equipment are shown, and an assessment of school performance too, the latter based on studies by the Ministry of Education (MEC).

“The government has made big investments in basic education, and there have been several areas of progress. Access to schooling for the Brazilian population of between 7 and 14 years old now covers 95% of the children in this age group. But the country is still far away from the ideal level”, Landi warns.At the intermediate level, the state of São Paulo has the largest share, 28% of Brazilian enrollments, followed by Minas Gerais, with 10%, “a very worrying situation”, as Landi defines it. Even so, in the 90’s, the regional differences diminished, there was a fall in the illiteracy rateand in the repetition of school years, and an increase in the level of average schooling of the population and in the number of enrollments.

These gains, however, have not been sufficient for the education system in São Paulo and in Brazil as a whole to accept all those that seek it, particularly in intermediate schooling. As a result, only a portion of the population can take part in the country’s scientific and technological advances. Even in São Paulo, where the situation of education is one of the best in Brazil, a formidable effort will have to be made to turn the current picture around.

Lasting proposals
Overcoming the challenges outlined by the Indicators – in particular, those centered on the question of education and of the capacity of businesses to innovate – calls for lasting and long range proposals. Brazil has gained more ground in the scientific field, no longer an outsider in the world panorama, but from the technological point of view the situation is still critical. Having been thrust into a market where competition is fierce, the country not only needs to expand its investments in ReD, but also to do so in an intelligent and organized manner.

“The Indicators make it clear that we have already done some important things from the technological point of view, and that the country has the ability to develop solutions for its own problems’, Brito Cruz stresses. Repeating this recipe is a question that involves not only political aspects like financial resources and the choice of niches, but also hard work at a fast pace, because the rest of the world will not be waiting.