Imprimir Republish


Sergio Rezende: A compass to find the way

The physicist and former minister explains what he expects from the debates at the 5th National Science, Technology, and Innovation Conference, which takes place in June 2024

Sergio Rezende was the head of the ministry in 2010, when the 4th Conference was held

Léo Caldas

The 5th National Science, Technology, and Innovation Conference is scheduled to be held in Brasília between June 4 and 6, 2024. The event is expected to bring together around 2,000 researchers, public administrators, and business people, among other interested parties. It will promote debates and formulate recommendations to guide public policies and government actions over the next 10 years. Its results will be used to flesh out the Estratégia nacional de ciência, tecnologia e inovação (National science, technology, and innovation strategy), a document published in May by the federal government, which sets out the recovery of the country’s scientific capacity, weakened in recent years by the lack of funding, policies for combating deindustrialization, investments in research into areas such as health, renewable energies and semiconductors, and initiatives aimed towards social development.

The first national conference was held in 1985, the year the Ministry of Science and Technology (now the MCTI, with the addition of Innovation to the name) was created, and the following two occurred in 2001 and 2005. The country has not organized a meeting of this nature since 2010, a period in which the minister of Science and Technology was physicist Sergio Machado Rezende, a researcher at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE). Rezende, who at the end of last year coordinated the group tasked with formulating science, technology, and innovation policies for the first 100 days of government, was named general secretary of the 5th Conference and is now in charge of its preparation. In the following interview, he explains how the event is being planned and what can be expected from its recommendations.

You were the minister of Science and Technology when the last National Science, Technology, and Innovation Conference was held in 2010. How do you compare the challenges today with those from that time?
The last conference took place at the end of President Lula’s second mandate, when we were experiencing an auspicious moment. Resources from the National Scientific and Technological Development Fund (FNDCT) were not constrained, laboratories that required more expensive equipment were equipped. There was a general optimism and the objective of the conference was to present proposals that would boost science and technology in the country until the 200-year anniversary of the independence of Brazil. What has happened since then is that those expectations have been frustrated. The end of President Dilma Roussef’s government was really complicated. We had an economic crisis and a Congress preparing her impeachment. And the following years were really bad. During Michel Temer’s government, the Ministry of Science and Technology was incorporated into the Ministry of Communications, which is a ministry with broader political use. The Bolsonaro government, that followed, was a disaster. The FNDCT was extremely constrained; the funds of agencies such as the CNPq [National Council for Scientific and Technological Development] and CAPES [Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education] fell a lot. Now we are experiencing a recovery, but it is still early days. This year, 2023, the FNDCT is not constrained, but the resources have been committed, because the previous government left extremely large orders, issued public notices at the last minute, and signed agreements. The situation will change in 2024, when the FNDCT promises to have significant growth, of more than 20%. The community is hopeful but knows that it is necessary to have a strategy. The main aim of the next conference is to create a science, technology, and innovation plan for the 2025–2035 decade. Our challenge is to analyze what happened in the past, assess the current situation, and make a proposal for the next 10 years.

The theme of the 5th Science, Technology, and Innovation Conference for a Fair, Sustainable, and Developed Brazil, is very similar to the 2010 meeting, which was State Policy for Science, Technology, and Innovation with a View to Sustainable Development. How was this theme defined and why did you decide to go back to this motto?
The organizing commission, which is made up of representatives from around 50 institutions, including associations and authorities linked to science and innovation, 10 ministries, and councils from state research foundations and state science and technology departments, made some suggestions about themes and the format of the conference. But the choice was defined by a decree from the president of the Republic on July 12. The title ended up being broad and similar to the other one. There is much in common between this conference and the previous one. The context of the conference is different, but to a certain extent it seeks a recovery of that path that was lost. In May, the minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, Luciana Santos, signed an ordinance defining the foundations for a national strategy and defining four axes of a science and technology policy. These four axes are also similar to those we had in the Science, Technology, and Innovation Action Plan in force between 2007 and 2010. Axis 1 is very broad and covers science in general. Number 2 is science and innovation for industrial development. The third is aimed towards strategic areas. There are about 10 areas, some not fully defined. We will have more preparatory thematic meetings for the national conference over the coming months, in which important topics linked to these areas will be discussed. Finally, axis 4 is science and technology for social development.

The context of the conference is different from the previous one, but to a certain extent it seeks a recovery of that path that was lost

You mentioned thematic meetings. And there will also be state and regional preparatory conferences. What is scheduled?
We have extended the period for thematic meetings and the state or municipal conferences until February, because it was very rushed doing everything at the end of this year. Several thematic meetings have been proposed. In some of them, we are still dealing with the host entity and the organizer. The meetings and state conferences will last for two or three days and the objective of them is to produce documents that will serve as the basis for the discussions of the national conference.

What are the topics already defined for the thematic meetings?
We are going to have, for example, a thematic conference about Science, Technology, Innovation and Youth. The organizer is Guilherme Rosso, he was a grant beneficiary of the Science without Borders program and worked with professor Sérgio Mascarenhas [1928–2021], of USP [University of São Paulo] in São Carlos. We are going to have a meeting about Renewable Energy, organized by Enio Pontes, of the Federal University of Ceará. We will have a thematic meeting in Brasília about the Integration of the Actions of the National ST&I System, in which we will discuss how to make legal frameworks function that have been defined for some years and in a certain way are not progressing. The MCTI itself is going to organize it. The coordinator should be Guilherme Calheiros, who is the secretary of Technological Development and Innovation of the ministry, and is also part of the executive group of the conference, along with myself, Anderson Gomes, my colleague at the Federal University of Pernambuco [UFPE], and Fernando Rizzo, of the CGEE [Center for Management and Strategic Studies, a social organization linked to the MCTI]. FINEP [Brazilian Funding Authority for Studies and Projects] will hold a meeting about industrial policy. We will have another one about semiconductors in Porto Alegre, where CEITEC [National Center of Advanced Electronic Technology] operates, a state-owned semiconductor factory that went into liquidation under the previous government and is now trying to recover. We will have a meeting about the Amazon, Science, and Traditional Knowledge. We also have one about health, that will be organized by the Ministry of Health, together with FIOCRUZ [the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation]. A lineup of 11 conferences is being defined.

Are there no emerging challenges that should be discussed? Is there not a risk that the conference, by seeking to retake the path of the previous conference, doesn’t look enough to the future?
I mentioned the main thematic meetings, but not all of them. We will have one about quantum technology and artificial Intelligence, which is a new topic and one in which Brazil has made a relatively small effort. We need to gain volume and go deeper. There is also one about basic science in the frontier of knowledge, which will be organized by the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and by the SBPC [Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science]. It’s very broad. We hope to have great minds in Brazil contributing to this discussion.

Will the regional meetings, that will come after, rediscuss the topics of the thematic meetings or just deal with local topics of interest?
They tend to discuss regional issues, but some topics should also reappear. The North region conference will have a strong correlation with the thematic meeting about the Amazon. The locations have not yet been defined. We know, for example, that Alagoas wants to sponsor the regional conference of the Northeast, but that will involve discussions in the councils of the research support foundations and the state departments. Each region will define its agenda and we will not interfere in that.

So, on June 4, 5, and 6, the national conference will be held in Brasília. How is it being organized and how should it make the most of the documents from the preparatory meetings?
The 2010 conference gathered around 2,800 people and took place in a huge hotel, the Brasília Alvorada. We are expecting a smaller number this time, between 1,500 and 2,000 people, because the entire program can be followed on the internet. We are considering three hotels and a tender is in progress. The CGEE is taking care of this. We will have lectures from people with lots of experience in their area of knowledge, round table discussions, a set of parallel sessions. It will be three days with a large number of activities. We still have to define the theme and author of each lecture and the composition of each roundtable discussion with the organizing committee and the executive committee.

We need to increase the job options for doctors. It’s possible to expand a little in academia, but we need to increase a lot in the companies

How will the recommendations be compiled?
All the sessions will have rapporteurs. One role of the rapporteurs is producing a document with a summary of what was discussed and with the recommendations. At the end of the conference, we will have an extensive set of suggestions. In the 2010 conference, this work resulted in several documents. The lecturers and participants of the roundtable discussions committed to writing an article about the presentations, which were published in a book by the CGEE. We also had a summary book with the recommendations from the conference and, finally, what is called the Livro azul (Blue book). As there were over 300 recommendations, the Livro azul is more synthetic and proposed an action strategy for the following decade. The organizer and person responsible for the Livro azul was physicist Luiz Davidovich, who after will be president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and is on the advisory board for next year’s conference. The conference has an organizing committee, an advisory board, and an executive committee. The people heading it at the moment are myself as general secretary; Anderson Gomes, as deputy secretary general; president of the CGEE, Fernando Rizzo; and Guilherme Calheiros, of the MCTI.

One of the recommendations from the 2010 conference was to demand, in public policies for innovation, that companies make investments into research and development in return for the public investments they received. The concern is also present in the debate underway about industrial policy. Are there more favorable conditions for engaging companies in innovation today?
Yes, I think so. The industrial sector in Brazil is historically very conservative, made up of many companies that produce simpler products and do not innovate very much. Around 15 years ago, two important instruments were defined, the “Lei da Inovação” (Law of Innovation) and the “Lei do Bem” (a set of tax incentives for R&D to boost innovation), and they have gradually started to be taken up by the companies. But as we don’t have an industrial policy—the previous government said that the best industrial policy was to not have a policy—this legal framework has been explored less than it could have been. Additionally, the industrial policy could certainly benefit from the experience of academia. The number of companies created in universities, in the incubators, is increasing all the time. Countless startups have been created. My colleague, physicist Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz [scientific director of FAPESP between 2005 and 2020], always shows some slides with the logos of a large number of companies that originated from UNICAMP. It’s the same thing at USP. Promoting discussions that involve new entrepreneurs and more experienced businesspeople is of upmost importance. A conference capable of involving academia, businesspeople, and industries, brings an important component to the system. The CNI [Brazilian National Confederation of Industry] held its first conference about innovation in 2005 and in recent times has gotten deeply involved with the topic. We have accumulated experience and the industrial policy discussion at the conference will come at a good time.

The Livro azul from 2010 established bold goals for master’s and PhD training that were reached, although, with the pandemic, the number of graduates has fallen. What will the discussion be like now? Should proposals to increase the number of PhD holders continue?
Science in Brazil is extremely young. We only began training researchers in an institutionalized manner in 1968. Just 55 years ago. In Brazil, we have close to two researchers for every thousand inhabitants, whereas in industrialized countries, associated with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OCDE], the average reaches eight researchers per thousand inhabitants. Our proportion is still relatively low and there is space to grow. In the last government we had a minister of Education that said that Brazil was training many doctors, we didn’t need so many doctors. This view is completely wrong.

At what rate should the graduate system grow, in your opinion?
Maybe the growth rate doesn’t have to be the same as that of the past 20 years, but now is not the time to say that we have already trained enough. We need, in any case, to increase the job options for doctors. It’s possible to expand a little in academia, but we need to increase a lot in the companies. Compared to other countries, Brazilian industry employs a small number of doctors. I want to call attention to a change that has occurred in recent times. Almost 20 years ago, the MCTI began doing programs in partnership with state research foundations. One example was the centers of excellence program, PRONEX, since 2005. The CNPq invited state foundations to do the program in conjunction and the proposal was this: once the projects of a state were selected, the CNPq would come in with part and the state foundation with the other. This would allow more projects to be approved for that state. This repeated in 2008, when the public bid for the National Institute of Science and Technology was done. These movements encouraged the states to put their research support foundations into operation and the majority of them sought to follow the consolidated and successful model of FAPESP. Today, Brazil has 20 state foundations that really function—there are others that exist on paper, but they don’t have funds to invest. It is a very significant number. The foundations have taken on an increasingly important role, offering grants in the states. This has contributed to the increased number of master’s and PhD graduates. We are more prepared to continue growing.