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Silent revolution

FAPESP's special program reinforces the bases for research in São Paulo

Silently and discretely, a program of FAPESP has been prompting, since 1995, a radical change in the physical bases for scientific and technological research in São Paulo. As a consequence, it has produced a positive impact of such an order in qualitative and quantitative results that, although this has still not been properly measured, you can bet on the medium and long-term repercussions on research in São Paulo. The program was born as an emergency measure that expressed the grave concern of FAPESP’s Senior Board with the progressive decay of the laboratories and other installations for research in São Paulo. This characteristic was made explicit in the name with which it was baptized – the Emergency Program for the Support of the Recovery and Modernization of the Infrastructure for Research of the State of São Paulo – soon simplified to the Infrastructure Program, or, better still, Infra, as the (several thousand) researchers who have benefited from it have come to call it.

Investing in equipment for the recovery and modernization of the research centers of public and private universities from all over the state, reforming laboratories, vivariums, libraries, archives and museums and installing IT networks, Infra has invested R$ 500 million over the last six years – much of it invested when the Brazilian currency- the real and the dollar were almost on a par. It is therefore worth comparing it, without any disdain for the São Paulo program, with a similar program for the laboratories of the United Kingdom, in which US$ 1.5 billion was invested – US$ 1 billion from the British government and US$ 500 million from the Wellcome Trust -, according to the article by Prime Minister Tony Blair in the August 21st 1998 issue of the magazine, Science .

Infra’s important results have been calling for a more systematic presentation for some time now, which, indeed, had been proposed by the Foundation’s Senior Board. This is the intention of the series of special supplements on the program that starts to be published with this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP. With articles by Maria Aparecida Medeiros and with Mário Leite Fernandes as the editor, we begin the series with libraries, archives and museums, essential not only for the preservation and dissemination of culture, but for the development of research itself.

When the Infrastructure Program was launched, in 1994, it was already a consensus that the situation of the State research complex was hindering the normal progress of the activity. FAPESP’s system of finance had always provided support for the direct costs of the research projects, but there were no mechanisms to ensure that the equipment was suitably installed and maintained. Nor did the institutions have the funds available for this. “We should reach conditions that may even be great, when possible, for groups of excellence”, says FAPESP’s scientific program as he makes it clear that Infra’s resources weren’t meant for emerging groups and their applications has always been preceded a strict evaluation carried out by specialists from outside the State of São Paulo in order to ensure the program’s fairness of judgment and credibility.

The Senior Board’s understanding that having adequate installations for research needs funding ended up taking on permanent characteristics. The mechanism of the technical reserve for financed projects – an additional 25% of the amount granted in the ordinary ones and 40% in the thematic ones – is the result of this evolution. This is how FAPESP has tried to forestall future problems.

“Not investing in Infra would have been like wanting to build a house without any foundations”, is the comparison made by FAPESP’s administrative director, Joaquim José de Camargo Engler, who is responsible for the administration of the program. In fact, with Infra, FAPESP has consolidated the foundations of the state research system, without ever giving it a static concept. It was precisely its flexibility for meeting new needs that guaranteed the success of the program.

In the beginning, Infra would finance renovations in laboratories, such as the restoration of electricity systems and water supplies; the recovery of vivariums and greenhouses, and the purchase of equipment, including computers. The first projects registered in the so-called Stage I (or Infra I), back in 1995, were divided into two large modules: general infrastructure and vivariums. In total, there were 1103 projects registered, of which 849 were approved, with investments of R$ 77.1 million.

Infra II, of 1996, was organized in five modules: special multi-user equipment, local IT networks, library infrastructure, FAP-Books (intended for the purchase of books), and general infrastructure. “This alteration to the program was the result of the experience acquired in the first stage, which showed the need to separate the main areas of assistance for infrastructure, in order to permit a better assessment of the requests received through specific committees”, says Engler. The demand observed that year once again justified the program: 3017 projects registered, and 1261 of these approved. The funds released amounted to R$ 146.5 million.

For Infra III, in 1997, the only alteration was the exclusion of FAP-Books, which gained its independence. 1825 projects were registered: 1045 were approved, totaling investments of R$ 122.4 million. Infra IV, of 1998, had further changes: the financing of multi-user equipment now became part of FAPESP’s permanent lines for development, and five modules were defined for the projects registered with the Infrastructure Program: local IT networks, libraries, general infrastructure, museums, and archives. 1798 projects were registered in this stage, and 1054 of them approved. Those approved represented investments totaling R$ 136 million.

At the end of Infra IV, FAPESP’s Senior Board and its Technical/Administrative Board carried out an assessment of the program, and decided on a new stage, splitting the project into two large modules: the treatment of chemical waste, intended for investments in the area of laboratory waste, and storage centers of information and documents – including the library, museum and archives modules. The applications for this stage of the program totaled 570, all of which are still being evaluated.