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São Paulo’s contribution

Conference brings together researchers from the State of São Paulo to discuss the challenges in science, technology and innovation over the next 15 years

The Conferência Paulista de Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação (Paulista Science, Technology and Innovation Conference), attended by 400 researchers and held at FAPESP on April 12 and 13, prepared a list of goals and proposals for the development of science and technology systems in São Paulo and Brazil in the next 15 to 20 years. The initiatives suggested by the conference’s five round tables highlighted the need to renew the federal government’s support of research projects being conducted in São Paulo at levels compatible with the results to which the state contributes in Brazil, in order to expand the number of PhDs in the state and to improve the quality and exposure of the state’s scientific production. In addition, it was suggested that rules and incentives be established for partnerships between universities and companies and the selection of fields that will be key for development, such as nanotechnology, oceanography and urban ecology. The need to ensure high-quality elementary and secondary education and to reform the structure of the universities and the post-graduate studies system was also emphasized by the round table participants. “What I found very positive was the fact that some of the ideas were recurrent. There is a convergence among the proposals being presented. The interventions were quite optimistic, showing that there is  progress on course in the São Paulo and the Brazilian systems of Science, Technology and Innovation,” said Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the scientific director of FAPESP, at the closing of the conference.

The event was a preparatory meeting for the 4th National Science, Technology and Innovation Conference, to be held in Brasília from May 26 to May 28. The objective was to offer to the national discussion the contribution from São Paulo, which accounts for 48% of  Brazilian PhDs and produces 50% of the scientific articles published in indexed journals. Calculated as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product, the State of São Paulo’s investments in Research and Development is higher than that of the emerging giants, such as China and India, and of Brazil itself. São Paulo ranks ahead of Italy and Spain and of all Latin American countries in this respect. The state’s total investments in R & D in 2008 totaled approximately R$ 15.5 billion, corresponding to 1.52% of the state’s GDP. “I was very pleased that São Paulo, a state where a significant part of the country’s scientific production is concentrated, promoted this event,” said the Minister of Science and Technology Sergio Rezende, who attended the conference.

More researchers, science with more impact
The growth in the number of active scientists in the state and the increasing visibility and international impact of the state’s scientific endeavors are among the main challenges faced by São Paulo’s academic research efforts in the next 15 to 20 years. For São Paulo to gain international significance in proportion to its academic excellence, the number of researchers from the state will have to triple by the end of this decade. The estimate was made in the Science, Technology and Innovation Plan for the State of São Paulo in the next 15 years, prepared by an executive committee whose members include State secretaries, Deans of Research from the state’s public universities and directors of research institutes. This goal is in line with another objective of the plan, which is to increase investments in research and development from the current 1.52% to 2.3% in 2020 – a level achieved by all the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), comprised of 31 countries that generate more than fifty percent of the world’s wealth.

028-035_Conferencia_171-01To respond to this challenge, the plan shows that it will be necessary to have approximately 156 thousand active researchers in the state in 2020, which is three times the current contingent. “There are approximately 1,100 scientists per one thousand inhabitants in São Paulo, which is higher than anywhere else in Latin America and twice as high as anywhere else in Brazil. To achieve the level of developed countries – such as Spain, for example, whose territorial and demographic size is comparable to that of São Paulo – the number of scientists in the state would have to increase threefold,” said Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, one of the plan’s coordinators.

There are major challenges to be faced. In Brazil, 56 Brazilians per one million inhabitants conclude their doctorate studies every year, less than the numbers in England (250), Australia (224), South Korea (164) and France (131). The situation in São Paulo is higher than the country’s average figures, as 114 doctorate students per one million inhabitants graduate every year. The problem is that the growth of PhDs in Brazil has declined in the last few years. Until 2002, the growth rate in this respect corresponded to 14% a year, and dropped to 4% a year from 2003 onwards. Speeding up this process depends on bold and often complex solutions. The proposals devised by the conference participants include such measures as improving elementary and secondary education to increase the number of well-prepared candidates for university education, create centers for post-graduate studies and focus more on doctorate programs than on master’s programs.

The participants agreed that it is no longer possible to wait for the three state universities to expand their doctorate programs beyond what has been done so far, as this expansion has been an on-going process for a number of years and the expansion seems to be reaching full capacity. In 2008, 2,301 students from the University of São Paulo got their doctorate degrees, almost three times the number of graduates in such major American universities as the University of California in Berkeley and the University of Texas in Austin. 772 students got their doctorate degrees from Unesp in 2008, while 760 students concluded their doctorate studies at Unicamp. This quantitative performance is higher than that of Harvard (660) and Stanford (638). However, in the United States, 48,802 students concluded their doctorate studies in 2008, in contrast to 10,711 students in Brazil, because the United States has many more doctorate programs across many universities. “Demanding that the state universities in São Paulo increase the number of doctorates might not be compatible with the quality of education that characterizes these institutions,” said Vahan Agopyan, dean of USP’s post-graduate programs and member of FAPESP’s Board.

The growth of new post-graduate study centers in Brazil will be the solution for the number of researchers to grow to the point of making Brazil competitive in this respect with the developed nations. “São Paulo educates 48% of the Brazilian PhDs, produces 50% of the scientific articles published in journals and is allocated a little over 20%, on average, of the resources allocated by the federal government’s research and development funding agencies,” said Brito Cruz. “It is crucial to expand the national Science and Technology system and at the same it is crucial to support the more advanced centers that contribute extensively to the country’s scientific and technological development,” he added.”

The objective is that nearly two-thirds of the state’s 150 thousand researchers work in the private sector in 2020, if the current proportion is maintained. The issue is more complex in the case of the universities. According to Marco Antônio Zago, USP’s Dean of Research, it is unrealistic to imagine that the universities will expand the number of positions for professors in the forthcoming years. The incentive to educate post-doctorate students, according to Zago, will be essential to increase the number of talented people involved directly in research, even if they have no definitive ties to higher learning institutions.

São Paulo State’s researchers waste too much time on bureaucratic tasks, such as rendering accounts and preparing reports, which hampers their dedication to research. According to the conference participants, the production of high-quality science depends on the hiring of more technical and administrative personnel by the universities. “Documents could be filled out by the administrative personnel and the equipment could be operated by specialized technicians,” said Cláudio Shyinti Kiminami, dean of Research at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar). As stated by USP’s Zago, da USP, the hiring of technical personnel is necessary to increase the use of multiple user equipment, which often lies idle because nobody knows how to operate it. “The lack of technical personnel is the main bottleneck for the expansion of research capacity in Brazilian universities,” Zago stated.

More effective participation in international networks was also pointed out as being essential for the papers written by our researchers to have more impact. Klaus Werner Capelle, dean of Research at the Federal University of the ABC (Ufabc), pointed out that the insertion of national research in the global scenario is lower than it should be, mainly due to language barriers. He proposed policies to fund and support English language courses focused on conversation and writing for researchers and students, and to organize aggressive campaigns to publicize Brazilian research projects abroad. “Brazilian papers accounted for 2.12% of the papers published around the world in 2008, but are referred to less often than the global average,” Capelle pointed out. “The academic exchange of students and international post-doctorate students is still very low in comparison with other countries,” he said.

028-035_Conferencia_171-02One of the proposals was to implement more incentives for students and researchers to travel abroad and establish ties with foreign student and researchers, by means, for example, of increasing the number of scholarship grants for doctorate studies. Ronaldo Pilli, Dean of Research at Unicamp, mentioned Unicamp’s efforts to become more international through the expansion of scientific training programs at American universities and the funding of visits by foreign professors for a period of up to two months. Pilli said that Unicamp is looking for legal ways to hire foreign researchers for a period of one to two years, without having to conduct a selection process in a foreign language, as is presently the case.

Improvement of secondary education and reform of post-graduate studies
The shortage of qualified human resources has already hampered growth plans in São Paulo’s industries, said Celso Barbosa, manager of the technological, research and development department at Villares Metals, and one of the guest speakers at the Conference. “We will soon have a very serious problem related to the shortage of skilled labor. For example, of the 27 engineers who graduated last year from the Technological Aeronautics Institute, 21 went to work in the financial industry. In Barbosa’s opinion, the country’s vigorous economic growth might lead to a major shortage of technicians and specialists at companies, a veritable skilled labor blackout. This blackout is already being felt. “It has become difficult even to find scholarship grantees for projects,” he said. The same concern was also voiced by José Fernando Perez, president of the Recepta Biopharma company and scientific director of FAPESP from 1993 to 2005. “Brazil needs to educate more engineers and scientists; otherwise, the shortage of human resources will become a major bottleneck for development,” he said.

Dealing with this issue, however, does not depend on the universities only. Elementary and secondary education deficiencies are the underlying reason for the preparation of human resources in the state of São Paulo. “The number of available places at institutions of higher learning is higher than the number of students concluding their secondary education,” Brito Cruz pointed out. “We need to increase the number of researchers and we have noticed that the number of students graduating from universities is limited and stagnating at the post-graduate level. We have to improve the quality of secondary education to revert this situation and get more and better candidates to move forward.” In this respect, the investments made by the state of São Paulo technology colleges – the Fatecs – and by technical schools – the Etecs – were emphasized as being important to revert the referred situation. Other suggested proposals included the creation of college preparatory courses maintained by the universities, in order to reinforce public school students’ scholastic aptitudes and facilitate their entry into high-quality public universities.

Part of the problem related to the number of students dropping out of public universities is the students’ difficulty to keep up with the academic demands. “They are unable to get the minimum grade averages, as they are academically unprepared when they enter the university,” said dean Vahan Agopyan, from USP. In his opinion, structural problems such as the shortage of teachers in certain subjects, poorly prepared teachers and the poor quality of educational material are coupled with inadequate professional training processes, such as the slow pace of changes in the school curricula. This generates unqualified professionals who, paradoxically, are unable to find teaching jobs in a market that badly needs such professional skills. In the opinion of Bernardo Arantes do Nascimento Teixeira, the dean of Post-graduate Programs at UFSCar, the problem is linked to the lack of prestige of the teaching career. “We have a significant number of places available at teacher colleges, because it is difficult to attract students willing to become teachers,” he stated.

028-035_Conferencia_171-03The lack of updated didactic methods also makes learning difficult for university students, according to Marilza Vieira Cunha Rudge, dean of the Post-graduate Programs at Paulista State University (Unesp). “Students find it difficult to attend lengthy theoretical classes. They are accustomed to collaborative learning methods that we do not use in the classroom,” she said. In her opinion, it is necessary to consider new formats for the post-graduate courses to meet the needs of this new target audience. “We have to respect the profile of the new generation,” she said.

Another issue permeated the discussions: is the post-graduation study model in effect in the country adequate to deal with the challenges in the forthcoming years? The need to have a master’s degree as a pre-requisite for a doctorate degree was questioned by the conference participants. The dean from Unesp, for example, suggested that the time needed to get a master’s degree be reduced by combining the graduate and post-graduate programs and reducing the time to get a doctorate degree to three years, so that the time to get post-graduate and doctorate degrees be reduced to seven years, as in Europe. Examples such as Unicamp, which was able to reduce the master’s degree program attended by students who had started scientific initiation programs during graduate school, and that of UFSCar, which often allows students enrolled in master degree programs to go straight to doctorate degree programs, were referred to as attractive alternatives for São Paulo’s post-graduate system, which is more advanced than that of other states in Brazil. The academically poorly prepared graduate students, however, are an obstacle to the idea of eliminating the master’s program. “The post-graduation system is consolidated and acknowledged in the country. We should really worry about improving it and integrating it better into society,” said USP’s Agopyan.

The progress of interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary research brings up another challenge, namely, the need to break down the bureaucratic barriers at universities divided into departments. “Focusing on interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary research will be crucial to the aggregation of different fields of knowledge in the university,” said Maria José Soares Mendes Gianinni, dean of Research at Unesp. Marco Antônio Zago, from USP, pointed out the need for a broad reform of the higher education system, in order to do away with discipline-related barriers and, above all, to prepare the universities for the long-term needs of scientific and technological progress that are not pegged to the agenda of the Ministry of Education or to corporate pressures. “The issue is not a technical performance evaluation of the kind conducted by Capes, but rather of long-term policy planning to create a new pact on the goals of the educational system after graduate school, uncoupled from the immediate interests and demands of the university system,” said Zago. According to Eduardo Moacyr Krieger, who coordinated the round table discussion on academic research, the effort to create the bases of interdisciplinary education at universities requires the strong engagement of the social and human sciences. “This is essential. One cannot conduct interdisciplinary research nowadays without the participation of the humanities and social sciences. Researchers in these fields are being summoned to participate actively in this effort,” Krieger added. Krieger was the former president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences from 1993 to 2007 and is a member of the Board of FAPESP.

Innovation in business management and incentives without bureaucracy
The insignificant interaction between the academic community and the private sector and the poor innovative ability of Brazilian companies remain the challenges to be dealt with by researchers, the government and the business community. The participants attending the São Paulo State Science, Technology and Innovation Conference agreed that the mechanisms created in the last few years to bring the business community closer to the knowledge generated at the universities were important yet insufficient, as the results did not meet expectations and the referred mechanisms need to be reinforced. Pedro Wongtschowski, director-president of Grupo Ultra, stated that the official incentive systems are inadequate for companies and do not contemplate the companies’ realities. “The “Lei do Bem”, a set of tax incentives for R&D to boost innovation law, for example, attracted approximately 300 companies in 2007 and 450 in 2008. This is very few,” said Wongtschowski, referring to Law No. 11,196, of 2005, which established incentives for technological innovation. “The intention is good, but has not generated the desired effects. There is something wrong in the way these instruments were created and how they are applied,” he stated.

President of Recepta Biopharma and former scientific director of FAPESP, physicist José Fernando Perez argued that federal government investments allocated for research should be more flexible, as their tools are excessively bureaucratic. “A slight change during the research project generates problems related to the use of the earmarked funds,” he said. Carlos Américo Pacheco, from Unicamp’s Institute of Economics, stated that public actions and policies focused on stimulating innovation, even when well-intentioned, become ineffective within an unfriendly business environment with an excessively heavy tax burden and high real interest rates. He argued in favor of the adoption of strategies focused on equalizing disadvantages imposed by macroeconomic conditions, to enable companies to innovate and become more competitive. “Take, for example, the success of the agricultural policy. It was successful because it offsets this hostile environment. The interest rates are fixed and the Treasury covers the difference. Nobody pays the Selic (basic) interest rate,” he added..

The debates showed that the private sector has improved its performance in terms of R & D. Data presented by Brito Cruz, from FAPESP, showed that investments in R & D in São Paulo are led by the private sector, which invested R$ 9.7 billion in 2008, in comparison to the R$ 7.1 billion invested in 1995 (in 2008 reais). The state government’s expenditures in this period went up from R$ 2.4 billion to R$ 3.7 billion. The jarring note comes from the federal government, whose investments in R & D in São Paulo were practically the same real value in 1995 and in 2008, ranging from a little over R$ 1.9 billion to approximately R$ 2 billion. He stated that, in spite of the limitations, the number of researchers in São Paulo increased, up from 25 thousand in 1995 to approximately 50 thousand in 2008. Of this number, 60% work at companies, 34% at higher learning institutions and 6% at research institutes. “The noteworthy fact is that the number of researchers working at companies has increased significantly from 1999 onwards,” Brito Cruz pointed out.

A sign that the relationship between companies and scientists has strengthened was a discussion – something unheard-of until a while ago – on the limits of the negotiations for the payment of royalties to researchers that work for the private sector. Wongtschowski, from Grupo Ultra, criticized the appetite of universities when the time comes to discuss intellectual property agreements with companies. He said that researchers frequently grossly exaggerate their contribution to the development of a product or process being developed or already developed – in general, this contribution is merely a link of an extensive chain of innovations – and demands royalties that, in his opinion, are exaggerated. He suggested that the remuneration be established after the product enters the market, in order to achieve a value pegged to the gains generated by the product. José Fernando Perez counter-argued by pointing out that research hospitals in the United States impose tough negotiations on companies when negotiating royalties for scientific discoveries.

Economist João Furtado, a professor of the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (USP) and coordinator of FAPESP’s technological innovation, called attention to the fact that the players involved in the technological development and innovation process frequently confuse their roles in Brazil. In his opinion, universities sometimes play a role that does not belong to them but to the companies, and sometimes fail to accomplish what is expected from them. Ronald Martin Dauscha, from the Center for Innovation, Education, Technology and Entrepreneurship of Paraná (Cietep), of the Paraná State Federation of Industries (Fiep), emphasized the importance of classifying companies according to their maturity in terms of research and innovation. “It’s not possible to classify them according to size. Some small companies are very innovative and many big companies are unfamiliar with research,” says Dauscha. Fernando Landgraf, director of innovation at the Technological Research Institute (IPT), stressed the need to establish more efficient metrics to evaluate companies and institutions. “Our proposal is based on using the number of contracts containing intellectual property clauses as an indicator of the progress of innovation,” he said.

Multi-disciplinary efforts and the importance of the Humanities
Which top priority sectors should R & D focus on in the next 15 years? This question resulted in one of the most enthusiastic discussions at the Conferência Paulista de Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação conference and produced complex answers that associate the need to generate multidisciplinary efforts in fields such as nanotechnology, computer sciences and urban ecology, with special emphasis on the involvement of the Humanities. Cylon Gonçalves da Silva, professor emeritus at the Physics Institute of Unicamp and assistant coordinator of FAPESP for Special Programs, proposed a list of emerging fields that, in his opinion, neither invalidates nor opposes the current priorities. In the fields of exact sciences and engineering, said Cylon, the emphasis should be channeled to nanotechnology, which is defined as the control of matter on the scale of atoms and molecules, with focus on the fields able to meet the planet’s energy needs, such as artificial photosynthesis and the storage of energy. He also proposed that investments be made in the so-called e-science, namely in the contextual tools that deal with vast quantities of data, to assist disciplines such as astronomy and genomics, among others. In the field of life and health sciences, according to the professor, the priority should be on nanobiotechnology, in order to develop new diagnosis processes, for example, and create molecules able to hit major targets in the human body. As most of the planet’s population live in cities, Cylon proposed that the goal in the field of social and human sciences be the effort to understand and control the ecology of the urban environment. Interdisciplinary research is essential to deal with the challenges posed by science, Cylon added. “Our challenge is to stimulate the new generation of researchers to explore the empty spaces of the traditional disciplines,” he stated.

028-035_Conferencia_171-04The role of social sciences and the humanities were also highlighted by historian Shozo Motoyama, from USP’s Inter-Unit Center at the History of Science. He proposed the creation of a Virtual Urban Ecology Institute. According to Motoyama, poverty, basic sanitation problems, urbanization, violence and intolerance are not being dealt with as a whole, but rather through a sector-based approach. “This idea would provide strong subsidies for the adoption of innovative public policies at all levels of government,” he argued.

Luiz Henrique Lopes dos Santos, a professor at USP’s Philosophy Department at the School of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences, pointed out that the creation of a broad program focused on the humanities entails the clear and organized demand from the scientific community. “If the scientific community has a significant number of researchers willing to dedicate their efforts to a specific field, then it stands to reason that it is important to have initiatives such as these. However, we have to be careful to avoid producing artificial demand when creating a broad program,” said Lopes dos Santos, who is the assistant coordinator of Human and Social Sciences, Architecture, Economics and Business Administration of FAPESP.

According to the professor, the humanities are not losing space in terms of the available scholarships and investments in research projects. The exception is the Research Program in Public Policies, which provided funding for 80 research projects between 2001 and 2004. In the period from 2005 to 2008, the program funded only 41 research projects. “These numbers show that an effort has to be made for humanities to play a bigger role in innovation-related projects – which in this case specifically refers to public policies,” he stated. In his opinion, the growth in the fields of humanities is in proportion to the growth of the science and technology fields in general. The available resources keep up with this growth not only in Brazil but also all around the world. “In addition to insignificant demand for major projects related to the humanities, we also have difficulties in inserting our academic production into the international agenda,” he stated. From the point of view of a broader strategy for research, the discussions validated the emphasis made by Brito Cruz, scientific director of FAPESP, in his opening speech. He stated that the research projects focused on finding treatment for diseases or on making companies more competitive should also include encouragement of and emphasis on research that makes humanity wiser. He added that the strategy of the State of São Paulo should take all these opportunities into consideration.