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Science in motion

Census shows growth in the number of research groups in Brazil and a reduction in their regional concentration

038-039_Diretorios de pesquisa_233The National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) has published the results of the Tenth Census of the Directory of Research Groups in Brazil, a kind of inventory of teams of researchers active in the country. With data collected in 2014, a total of 35,424 research groups were mapped, 29% more than the number recorded in 2010, and three times more than that in 2000. The number of active researchers and their level of education have increased. Of the 180,000 active researchers, 116,000 have at least a doctorate, 65% of the total. This rate stood at 63% in 2010 and 57% in 2000.

A drop in regional concentration was also seen with respect to 2010. The participation of groups in the Northeast increased from 18.3% to 20.4% between 2010 and 2014, approaching the percentage of groups in the South, stable at about 22%. In 2004, groups in the Northeast represented 14.2% of the total.  The Southeast, which had 46.8% of groups in 2010, today has 43.8% of the total.

The indicators above are principally attributed to the federal university restructuring and expansion program, Reuni, which increased the number of professors and capacity in institutions linked to the Ministry of Education (MEC), including in regions far from main knowledge production centers. “The professors hired by federal universities now have a new qualification profile. Many graduated from dynamic doctorate programs with the intention of continuing their research, and they have formed research groups in institutions that didn’t always have a research tradition,” says Professor Elizabeth Balbachevsky, at the University of São Paulo (USP) School of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences (FFLCH), a researcher in the field of science and innovation.

Rogério Meneghini, scientific coordinator of the SciELO Brazil library, adds: “A lot of money was invested in federal universities to expand the number of vacancies for students and this also had an impact on research.” The growth in the number of groups, he notes, is good news, but does not mean that the result will be the production of innovative research. “Brazil’s position on the research quality ranking has fallen, which could be the result of too rapid growth of research groups,” he states.

038-039_Diretorios de pesquisa_233Despite the reduction in regional concentration, several indicators highlight the performance of regions with stronger research traditions. In the state of São Paulo, for example, 78.5% of researchers have a doctorate. It is the highest percentage of all states in Brazil—the average is 61%. Similarly, among researchers in the state of São Paulo, the number of articles published in international journals reached 3.3 articles per author in 2010, while the Brazilian average was 2.5 articles per author. In the 2002 census, authors in São Paulo averaged 2 articles per year while the average for Brazil was 1.4 articles.

The percentage of women increased slightly from 2010 to 2014. Forty-six percent of group leadership positions were held by women, compared to 45% in 2010 and 42% in 2004. The total number of researchers continued to be equally divided by gender in 2010.  There were also changes in the relative number of groups in each field of knowledge, with the largest growth in the humanities (from 19.5% to 20.9% of the total from 2010 to 2014), applied social sciences (from 12.6% to 13.7%) and linguistics, languages, literature and arts (from 6.6% to 6.9%).

According to Elizabeth Balbachevsky, the change in broad fields may be linked to the advancement of women. “The growth of groups was most significant in fields that attract more women, such as the humanities and applied social sciences,” she says. The researcher points out that these fields have been breaking with the tradition of doing research in isolation, with increased formation of research groups. “A culture of collective research has been established in the humanities, encouraged by initiatives such as FAPESP thematic projects and programs that stimulate the formation of networks,” she says.

Sociologist Fernanda Sobral of the University of Brasília (UNB) highlights the influence of programs like that of the National Institutes of Science and Technology (INCTs), maintained by CNPq and by state research support foundations, in the increase in new research groups. “Each of these institutes form networks with researchers from several institutions and regions,” she says. She believes that the phenomenon is responsible, at least in part, for the performance of the Northeast and the advancement of women. “Even though INCT coordinators are mostly male researchers based in the South and Southeast, groups from other regions or led by women also participate,” she says. “But graduate education policy and programs like Casadinho have also helped reduce the concentration of research,” she says, referring to a CNPq initiative that connects mature graduate programs with other, younger programs.

When the articles published in international journals are analyzed, some fields stand out. In the biological sciences, the number of articles published per year per doctoral-level researcher is about 1.9. Other stand-out areas are health sciences (1.76 articles/researcher/year), exact and earth sciences (1.49 articles/researcher/year) and agricultural sciences (1.22). This profile differs from that of the humanities (0.21 articles/researcher/year), applied social sciences (0.24 articles) and linguistics, arts, languages and literature (0.09). These fields, however, are at the top of the list when production is measured by book chapters (between 0.68 and 0.77 chapters/researcher/year). “There is remarkable resilience in these fields,” says Balbachevsky. “These researchers continue to publish books and book chapters despite such publications having been given less emphasis in evaluations of production.”