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Points of agreement

National conference seeks ways to improve science, technology and innovation policies

LAURA DAVIÑAThe debates at the 4th National Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation (CNCTI), which involved more than 4000 participants in Brasilia from May 26 to 28, reached a series of points of agreement. Chief among them was the urgency to redeem the quality of education in order to ensure the formation of the new generations of professionals and researchers that the country will need in order to develop. “Researchers, government officials and businessmen agreed that it is necessary to improve education and value teachers, by mobilizing universities to improve their training standards, although reaching this target is complex and depends on several players”, said physicist Luiz Davidovich, Secretary General of the conference and a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). A second point of consensus in the talks and discussions was linked to the need for improving mechanisms to stimulate innovation in companies and interaction between researchers and the private sector, both of which have improved in recent years but results are still modest. “It is imperative that companies devote more to research and development activities, and our economic environment does not favor this change  in culture much”, Davidovich said. Thirdly, the need to promote the sustainable exploitation of biomes such as the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Cerrado was highlighted, to change the old model that values logging and deforestation for cattle rearing.

According to the Secretary General of the conference, there was still a fourth point of convergence, although still diffuse, involving the importance of stimulating the so-called “social technologies”, which consists of using the country’s scientific capacity to solve problems of underdevelopment, such as malnutrition and the lack of sanitation, among other things, by working in partnership with the needy. “There is no single model to be followed, but there is some consensus that social technologies could put the country in a leading position in the type of development that is more sustainable than that in rich countries”, Davidovich said.

The main conclusions of the conference will be compiled into a document, the Blue Book of Science, Technology and Innovation, which will be published before the presidential elections in October. The idea is for it to become a reference text for state policies over the next 10 years, thereby signaling to the country’s next governors the thinking of the scientific community. Articles with the proposals made at each of the round tables and plenary sessions of the conference will be written by their respective reporters and published in a revised edition of the journal, Strategic Partnerships, from the Center for Strategic Studies and Management (CGEE), the conference organizer.

Advances made in recent years, such as regularity in funding for research, the vigorous growth of scientific production and the increasing concern of companies about innovation, punctuated discussions at the conference, but some provocative questions helped to make the optimism more realistic: will Brazilian science have the strength needed over the next few years to make the leap that will lead to achieving the level of a developed country? What is missing for Brazil to win a Nobel Prize in science? How long will it take to reverse the culture that is still averse to innovation in most Brazilian companies?

Mathematician Jacob Palis, president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC), said that one of the major challenges to guarantee this leap will be to triple, by 2020, the number of staff involved in science, ranging from laboratory technicians to PhDs. “We have to speed up this process without losing quality. This will demand a huge effort from the scientific and business community. It will be necessary to increase investments in science to reach a level of about 2% of GDP in 10 years time”, said Palis, who optimistically said that winning a Nobel Prize is just a matter of time. “I’m willing to bet that this is going to happen”, he said. Physicist Carlos Aragon, president of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), proposed reviewing concepts that are rooted in the practice of Brazilian universities, such as the early specialization of undergraduate students. “We must invest in new teaching resources that update the outdated syllabus and motivate students to get involved in research. We need to give fewer classes and encourage students to use their time for actually studying”, said Aragon, who also suggested a review of the organization of universities into departments. “This compartmentalization hinders multidisciplinary research,” he said. The need to invest in academic centers of excellence to avoid bottlenecks was emphasized in some of the presentations, like the one given by Eduardo Krieger, a researcher at the Heart Institute (InCor) and a member of the Board of FAPESP.

FAPESP’s scientific director, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, said that since the early 1990s Brazil has been among the four top countries in terms of growth in the number of scientific articles published. Qualitatively, also, there have been important advances, with articles by Brazilian researchers becoming increasingly more prominent in international journals. “Brazilian science has experienced a significant rise in both quantity and quality. One of our challenges in this context is the question of the impact of the science that is produced in Brazil. The evolution of the number of citations is increasing but is still below the world average”, he pointed out. Another challenge, according to Brito Cruz, is to resume the increase in the rate of growth of PhDs . Until 2003, the number of PhDs grew by 18% a year. Since then it has been growing at approximately 5% a year. “The figures show that there is some significant restriction operating in the Brazilian system, which is ‘putting on the hand brake’ in the formation of PhDs. We need to triple the number of researchers for Brazil to reach levels similar to those in Spain, for example”, he said. Brito Cruz has argued for a broader approach when it comes to guiding research in the country. “We live in a utilitarian time, according to which science needs to help companies innovate, cure disease or combat poverty. This is important, but it’s also important to strengthen the science that makes humanity wiser”, he said. Another point emphasized by the scientific director of FAPESP was the need to improve the quality of Brazilian research and he mentioned the Foundation’s initiatives, such as the Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (Cepids) that receive funding from groups of excellence for a period of 10 years. “Bold projects may need more time to produce results. Many of these Cepids are addressing research topics that no longer have a close relationship with their initial objectives. They can only be bold because they have been lazy for a long time “, said Brito Cruz.

The importance of expanding and giving more quality to post-graduate programs was highlighted several times during the event. In a session that compiled the recommendations of various regional, preparatory conferences, representatives from the Midwest and Northeast kept coming back to the same theme: it is necessary to create new programs that are capable of preparing more researchers and connecting the already existing programs to those in other regions of the country through networking. “It would be interesting to make the CNPq’s initiatives annual, like the synchronized public bidding notice, which connects consolidated post-graduate programs with others that are still being consolidated”, said Janesmar Cavalcanti, the Secretary of Science, Technology and Innovation in Alagoas. This idea converges with proposals made by the Paulista Conference of Science, Technology and Innovation in April (see Pesquisa Fapesp nº 172), which also proposed expanding the post-graduation centers in Sao Paulo, mainly in the federal universities, where there is still room for growth.

Several ways were indicated to boost the innovation capacity of Brazilian companies. The reports brought by representatives from regional conferences suggested the creation of state and municipal innovation laws,  and integration of these efforts with those of the federal government to encourage companies to use their benefits. The executive manager of the Research and Development Center of Petrobras, Carlos Tadeu Fraga, reported the oil giant’s strategy for attracting to Brazil the research and development centers of multinational companies interested in taking advantage of opportunities linked to oil exploration in the pre-salt reserves. Carlos Américo Pacheco, a professor from The Institute of Economics at the University of Campinas (Unicamp), proposed the creation of sectorial innovation platforms, arguing that the problem requires more accurate monitoring than it is getting at present. He said that it was impractical to follow only general innovation targets, since information about the meeting of goals takes two years to measure, by which time it is too late to correct their direction.

Glauco Arbix, a professor at the School of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences (FFLCH) at the University of São Paulo (USP), argued for the creation of a national innovation agency that has weight, resources and the capacity to sponsor and coordinate  interaction between the programs, institutions and policies for science, technology and innovation. “And this agency should not be linked to the Ministry of Science and Technology, but to the office of the President of the Republic, in order to signal that this is a priority. Brazil is too large to have small programs. We need to select our priorities better and establish some form of hierarchy”, he said. For Arbix, there is growing maturity in the debate on ST & I in Brazil. “The way in which business institutions try to deal with technology today has a different perspective from what we were seeing a few years ago. We must take advantage of this moment to make a leap forward”, he said.

Living forest
Innovation also plays a crucial role in building a sustainable development project for the Amazon, said Bertha Becker, professor emeritus at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). According to Becker the region now has two proposals for sustainable development projects. “One of these projects, which is associated with climate change, has predominated. This project defends preservation of living forest, by funding the abandoning of deforestation. I seriously question this project because it makes the forest unproductive. It’s basically a compensation project for developed countries that will be able to continue being the largest emitters”, she said. The other project, according to Bertha, understands sustainable development as a new pattern of development based on science, technology and innovation. “The challenge in this case is to use natural resources without destroying them, generating jobs and income for millions of inhabitants in the region. We’ll only achieve this with public policies and huge investments in science and innovation”, she pointed out.

At the conference’s official opening ceremony, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva emphasized the importance of drawing up perennial policies to be discussed with the scientific community, as happened, according to him, with the Action Plan of the Ministry of Science and Technology 2007-2010. “It’s not the policy of the minister, it’s government policy that the scientific community helped to formulate and to supervise its implementation”, the president said. At the same event, Education Minister, Fernando Haddad, suggested to his colleague, Sergio Rezende, head of Science and Technology, that the conclusions of the National Conference on Education, held between March 28 and April 1, be sent to Congress together with the results of CNCTI, thus creating a joint policy for the next 10 years.