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Resilience during the crisis

Despite the unfavorable economy, FAPESP continues its pace of investment according to the institution’s 2016 report

In 2016, FAPESP invested a total of R$1,137,355,628 in 24,685 research projects. This figure was slightly lower than investments in 2015, which totaled R$1,188,693,702 for the 26,445 projects that were underway at that time. Despite the adverse situation resulting from decreased state tax revenue, which in turn is the product of the country’s economic crisis, 10,480 new projects were contracted, an increase of 4% over 2015; 5,491 were scholarships in Brazil, 1,162 were scholarships abroad, and 3,827 projects supported research. “The Foundation has been able to maintain its commitments and its rhythm of activity in research funding, despite the economic problems that Brazil faced in 2016,” says FAPESP president and physicist José Goldemberg.

The Foundation’s performance over the last year comprises the Relatório de atividades 2016 (2016 Activity Report), which was released in August and is available at, where readers can also find yearly summaries of FAPESP dating back to 1962, when the institution began operations. The cover of the 2016 report features works by the street artists Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo, better known as OSGEMEOS, and some of these artworks also appear in this article.

The growth in cooperation with the business sector is one of the highlights of the report. The Innovative Research in Small Business program (PIPE) had its best year since it was created in 1997: 228 new proposals were contracted, nearly one per working day, and an investment of R$55.5 million was made (see Pesquisa FAPESP, issue No. 257). In 2015, 159 projects were contracted and the program’s total disbursement was R$29.9 million. PIPE was the first initiative by a Brazilian agency to provide grant resources for small and medium-sized companies to develop innovations in early stages. “It is a program that has made an enormous contribution to the scientific, technological, and economic development of the state of São Paulo, stimulating the creation of businesses that thrive and generate jobs and wealth,” says physicist Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP’s scientific director.

The creation of engineering research centers in cooperation with companies was also driven in 2016 by the establishment of the Center for Applied Research in Human Well-Being and Behavior, a partnership between FAPESP, the Natura cosmetics company, the University of São Paulo (USP), the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP), and Mackenzie University. The center, which is based at USP, is dedicated to multidisciplinary studies on human behavior with a joint investment of R$40 million over 10 years. The idea is to bring together knowledge, methodologies, and technologies in areas such as experimental psychology and neuroscience which create well-being indicators for the Brazilian population and help generate innovative products. Andrea Alvares, Natura’s vice president of marketing and innovation, stated that the model is at the forefront of open innovation. “The greater the diversity of the researchers involved, the richer the results will be,” she said at the event launching the center.

The partnership with Natura joins four other centers established in previous years: two with the pharmaceutical company GSK, one with the carmaker Peugeot-Citroën, and another with the oil and gas company BG. In this model, each R$1 invested by FAPESP will mobilize another R$1 from the partner company and R$2 from the university or research institute that houses the center. Together, these five centers will receive R$259 million in investments.

Another highlight of the report was the growth in support for interdisciplinary research, a field which accounted for 11.5% of Foundation disbursement in 2016, behind life sciences (40.5%) and exact and Earth sciences, and engineering (37%) but ahead of human and social sciences (11%). This performance surpasses that of 2015, when 10.4% of the Foundation’s funding went to interdisciplinary projects, and far exceeds that of 2006 (7.78%) or 2013 (3.08%).

FAPESP has also maintained consistent investments in other inducement modalities that fund globally competitive research projects. The thematic projects, which involve bold goals that can justify funding lasting up to five years and often bring together researchers from several institutions, received R$256,266,138 in 2016, compared to R$250,586,553 in 2015. These amounts include resources spent on the projects, as well as assistance and scholarships in the country and abroad which are tied to them. The number of projects contracted was the highest in the last six years, reaching 88, six more than in 2015 (see table on page 39). There were 477 thematic projects underway in 2016. The Young Researchers in Emerging Centers program maintained a similar pace: it received R$68.2 million in 2016, also including research grants and scholarships linked to 313 projects which are underway, compared to R$67.3 million in 2015. Fifty-eight of these projects were contracted in the past year. The program finances the formation of centers led by young researchers with doctorates and high potential, preferably in institutions that have not yet established traditions in the project area, for up to four years.

The 1989 state constitution provides FAPESP 1% of tax revenues from the state of São Paulo to invest in scientific and technological research. In 2016, the total amount forwarded from the state treasury totaled R$1,057,714,553, and in nominal values exceeded the previous year’s transfer by 1.2%. When the value is corrected according to the Broad National Consumer Price Index (IPCA), there was a decrease of 5% compared to 2015. These funds from the treasury were responsible for 78.7% of the Foundation’s revenue. The 2016 disbursement was supplemented with R$215,154,402 which came from agreements and partnerships with other agencies, institutions, and companies, as well as R$71,328,947 in revenue from the Foundation itself, which maintains profitable assets to complement the resources received from the treasury. In nominal terms, this revenue was 6% lower in 2016 than in 2015.

The reach of this investment can be seen from a number of different perspectives. One of these is the division of resources by FAPESP: 39.5% of disbursements went to scholarship grants in Brazil and abroad; 34.1% went to regular research grants; 14.3% to special programs, such as those supporting young researchers and research in eScience; and 12.1% to technological innovation programs.

For the regular research grants, these resources were 9% lower than in 2015 and 3% fewer projects were contracted. This drop was more noticeable in details such as participation in or organization of scientific meetings, while regular research grants (projects funded for up to two years) increased 17% and thematic projects grew by 9%.

Scholarship grant disbursements totaled R$448.9 million, 6% less in nominal values than in 2015. Even so, there was a 4% increase in the number of new scholarship grants contracted, and current scholarship grants received an 11% adjustment. The main highlight for scholarship grants in Brazil was seen in scientific initiation: 2,287 scholarship grants were contracted, 12% more than the 2,036 in the previous year. The number of master’s, doctorate, and direct doctorate grants grew 0.4%, 8%, and 21%, respectively. Post-doctorate study grants dropped from 684 scholarships in 2015 to 634 in 2016. Scholarships abroad fell 7%, with 1,162 last year compared to 1,244 in 2015. This reduction was concentrated in foreign scholarship grants for internships lasting up to one year, depending on the modality. At the same time, foreign research grants rose from 254 in 2015 to 258 in 2016.

The number of foreign researchers who obtained scholarships for post-doctoral studies in Brazil financed by FAPESP dropped from 123 in 2015 to 93 in 2016. But the proportion of grants awarded to researchers from other countries remained stable, with 19% of all post-doctoral grants in Brazil, slightly below the level of 2015 (21%) but exceeding that of the five previous years, which ranged from 13% to 18%. The grant beneficiaries, who are generally foreign, worked in exact and Earth sciences (36%), engineering (26%), human sciences (26%), and applied social sciences (25%).

Another way to analyze the Foundation’s investments distinguishes the research support objectives. Using this criterion, we see that 53% of the funds were directed toward applied studies. This item includes research grants and scholarships in areas like agronomy and veterinary medicine, engineering, and health, which almost always result in applications, in addition to programs that stimulate innovation in universities and companies and some special Foundation programs. Another 39% were invested in supporting the advancement of knowledge through programs that comprise human resources and stimulate academic research, including grants and scholarships. Finally, 8% supported research infrastructure, enabling the recovery, modernization, and purchase of equipment for laboratories, expansion of library collections in teaching and research institutions, and ensuring fast Internet access for researchers.

Investments in the Multi-User Equipment program (EMU) for the purchase of high-value equipment which can be available to a large number of researchers totaled R$37.5 million in 2016, including 134 projects which were linked to regular research grants, thematic projects, and the Young Researchers program. This amount also includes four specific EMU projects, which cost R$1.3 million.

Throughout 2016, there were cooperation agreements between FAPESP and 94 organizations, 28 signed that year. Of all the development agencies and academic institutions with which new agreements were signed, only one was Brazilian: the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The other 24 agreements were signed with foreign institutions, including 7 in the United States, 3 in the United Kingdom, 3 in Australia, 2 in Canada, 2 in France, 2 in China, 1 in the Netherlands, 1 in Italy, 1 in Norway, 1 in Chile, and 1 multinational agency. Among these organizations, three were companies: Statoil (Norway), Koppert (the Netherlands) and IBM (the United States). Two scientific symposia in the series FAPESP Week, which seeks to stimulate scientific collaborations between researchers from São Paulo and other countries, were carried out in 2016: one in March in the United States, and another in November in Uruguay.