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Support for growing

Balance of 40 years shows strategic role of postgraduate studies in the country

The pitfalls of Brazilian education find a counterpoint in the postgraduate system, whose performance in the last four decades finds a parallel in few countries in the world. Brazil boasts today almost 3 thousand recognized postgraduate courses. In 2004, they qualified 27 thousand masters and 8 thousand doctors, making up the framework for research that makes Brazil account for 45% of the whole scientific production of Latin America. Between 1963 and 2004, the federal government invested R$ 11.1 billion, in today’s values, in granting masters’ and doctors’ scholarships.

About 60% of these scholarships were funded by the Council for Advanced Professional Training (CAPES), and the other 40% by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). In the same period, the state of São Paulo, through FAPESP, invested US$ 724 million (about R$ 1.6 billion) in scholarships in Brazil and abroad. The number of courses has been growing at a rate of 8.6% a year. Until the beginning of the 1960’s, the postgraduate programs were limited to a few dozen isolated initiatives, inspired on different models. Those that stood out were from the University of São Paulo (USP), which followed a Europeanized model, and from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), with an American accent.

It was precisely 40 years ago that a report from the Federal Education Council organized the system along the lines in force until today. It adopted a flexible matrix, similar to the one existing in the United States, which divides postgraduate studies into two categories – stricto sensu, aimed at the academic career, and lato sensu, for those working in companies and other activities – and establishes the categories of master’s and doctor’s degrees, without the first being obligatorily a prerequisite for the second. The legal landmark became known as the Sucupira Report, in an allusion to the writer of the report, a professor emeritus from UFRJ, Newton Sucupira. Now 85 years-old, Sucupira was present at a debate held on December 2 at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV), in Rio de Janeiro, which brought together authorities and specialists to discuss the 40 years of postgraduate studies in Brazil. “The Sucupira Report was the lodestone for the orderly growth of postgraduate studies in Brazil”, explains Fátima Bayma de Oliveira, a professor at the FGV and the organizer of the debate.

If the Sucupira Report created a legal paving, the growth of postgraduate studies also depended on other players and circumstances. Good use was made, for example, of the seed planted in the 1950’s by the American Ford and Rockefeller foundations, which kicked off  in a regular manner the distribution of postgraduate scholarships, in Brazil and abroad, according to a meritocratic criterion. In the 1970’s, there was a heavy investment by the government in Capes, the federal agency for funding and evaluating postgraduate studies linked to the Ministry of Education (MEC). “What Brazil did in 40 years no other country has done so rapidly. The American system was constructed over 300 years”, says Cláudio de Moura Castro, who presided Capes between 1979 and 1982.

The impulse for the system, he says, was driven by the interest of the military government in developing technology, and by the availability of a generation of researchers who saw difficulties in constructing an academic career in the universities closed in chairs. “The military aspired to technological development and knew that technology is only obtained with investment in science. They placed their bets on a meritocratic system in which the best Brazilian researchers have the chance of studying at the best international centers”, he explains.

“The odd thing is that the Ministry of Education had a secondary participation in the process. The resources came directly from the Ministry of Planning and the then recently-created Financier of Studies and Projects, Finep”, says Moura Castro. One name is much recalled in this journey: José Pelúcio Ferreira, an advisor to the Minister of Planning, João Paulo dos Reis Velloso, who, in the 1970’s, presided Finep for eight years. Ferreira transformed the National Scientific and Technological Development Fund (FNDCT) into a financial tool at the service of research. In the FNDCT disbursed about US$ 1.2 billion, with about 70% of this amount intended for research in the universities and institutes and for the construction of the postgraduate scenario.

Prune for growth
The academic community understood the importance of public investment and, although it was opposed to the military government, took on the initiative. The great example was the adhesion of the researchers to the system for evaluating the postgraduate courses created in 1976. By means of this, Capes changed profile and converted itself into an evaluation agency as well. Besides analyzing proposals to create new courses, it now examined the already existing ones, giving them marks, setting targets, and quantifying the performance of its teaching staff. The evaluators are professors recruited at other institutions. “If the academic community had not adhered to the idea, we would not have managed to do an evaluation along these lines”, says Renato Janine Ribeiro, a philosophy professor at USP and current director of evaluation at Capes.

One of the keys for the constant improvement of the postgraduate system is attributed to this system. Until the mid-1990’s, the marks were given on a scale of five levels, with the courses marked A the best, and those marked D and E liable to losing their credentials. In the last few years, it has been observing a scale of 7 levels, with marks 5, 6 and 7 being a breakdown of the A mark. It was thus possible to see the nuances of the best courses and encourage them to improve more and more. In a strategy known as “pruning for growth”, the evaluators from Capes go so far as to suggest that the program being evaluated terminate teaching staff with low productivity.

The commitment of the academic community explains why the system has perfected itself, despite the jolts to the economy, the departure of the military, and the advent of democracy. In 1990, the then President Fernando Collor announced the extinction of Capes, as part of his project of administrative reform that extinguished public servants’ jobs and self-managed government entities. An instantaneous mobilization of the academic community at the National Congress, led by, amongst others, Professors Ana Lúcia Gazzola, today the rectoress of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), and Jorge Guimarães, the current president of Capes, resuscitated the agency.

The debate on the 40 years of postgraduate studies promoted by the FGV discussed the challenges for the system and postgraduate studies for the next few years. There was a consensus that rigorous evaluation alone will not be sufficient to guarantee an increase in performance at the same pace as in the last few years. New money will have to be invested. Professor Newton Sucupira criticized the lack of resources in the universities, which prevents them from implanting master’s and doctor’s degree courses in new areas. The excessive concentration of the system on the South and Southeast of the country was also criticized. About 90% of those studying for a doctorate are in these regions. And, amongst the 163 Brazilian universities, no more than a dozen accounts for almost the totality of scientific production. Another question, raised at the debate by Paulo Alcântara Gomes, the rector of Castelo Branco University, is the timid integration between universities and companies. “The country’s model for economic development privileges action inside the university. Mechanisms for these people to be absorbed by the productive sector still do not exist”, he says.

In the 1990’s, the programs started drawing closer to the productive sector, through the creation of professional master’s degrees, aimed at the improvement of students that do not follow an academic career but are working in private and public companies. Today, there are 155 of these courses.

“Until the advent of these courses, the improvement of the companies’ professionals used to be done only by means of lato sensu postgraduate courses and MBAs, which were not evaluated by Capes, nor do they have the rigor of the professional master’s courses”, says Fátima Bayma, from the FGV. These initiatives, though, are still far from giving a consistent response to the challenge of putting human resources inside the companies at the service of the refinement of innovation. Today, three out of every four Brazilian doctors work in higher education institutions. The target now is to expand the system even more. In spite of its growing performance, Brazil qualified 4.6 doctors per 100 thousand inhabitants in 2003.

The ratio in South Korea, one of the countries that most invests in innovation, was 14 doctors per 100 thousand inhabitants, the same figure as that obtained by the United States. Capes’ plans are ambitious: it intends to qualify 16 thousand doctors and 45 thousand masters in 2010, almost double the contingent qualified in 2003. “There are those who say that there is no market for so many people, but I do not know any doctor with a quality education who is unemployed”, says Jorge Guimarães, the president of Capes. “Nor is it true that they are co-opted by developed countries. About 95% of the scholarship holders abroad come back.”

To reach the objective, Capes will set off in search of help from companies. “We now finance 60% of the postgraduate scholarship holders, and our capacity is reaching the limit. After all, the number of master’s degree students is growing 11% a year, and of doctorate students, 8%”, Guimarães says. “For the system to grow, we will enter into partnerships with large companies”, he claims. The National Postgraduate Studies Plan for the period 2005-2010 provides for a reinforcement to the granting of scholarships in areas linked to the needs of Brazilian industry.

There will be more investment in courses in the areas of biotechnology, semicondutors, software, nanotechnology and drugs, amongst others, regarded as strategic in the federal government’s policy for industry and technological development. This, without altering the framework inaugurated by the Sucupira Report. “We want to double the number of doctors by 2010, but the master’s degree will not lose importance, as is happening in Europe. “Brazil only loses to the United States in experience with master’s degree courses and will continue to lay bets on this model. It works well and is fed by scientific initiation, which, on graduation, selects good candidates for the academic career”, claims the president of Capes.