Challenges and Achievements: The Nation Has Rapidly Grown Its Supply of Scientists and Engineers and Is Now Meshing Its Research and Economic Development Activities

By Rezende, Sergio Machado | Issues in Science and Technology, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Challenges and Achievements: The Nation Has Rapidly Grown Its Supply of Scientists and Engineers and Is Now Meshing Its Research and Economic Development Activities


Rezende, Sergio Machado, Issues in Science and Technology


Until World War II, Brazil had a small number of scientists and only an incipient institutional research base. Its industry was at an embryonic stage and based only in traditional areas. Full-time employment for university teaching staff and graduate programs did not exist until the 1960s. Not until the 1970s did an institutional base devoted to science and technology (S&T) began to be effectively established. This situation, together with the business sector's historical lack of appreciation for innovation, limited the possibilities for developing sectors that were potentially more dynamic in the national economy.

The first actions of the federal government to start building up the country's scientific capacity were taken in 1951 with the creation of the National Research Council (CNPq) and the Commission for the Improvement of Personnel in Higher Education (CAPES). The CNPq and CAPES provided fellowships for Brazilians to pursue graduate studies abroad, mainly in the United States and Europe. Until recently, the main objective of this policy was the training of human resources for scientific research and expanding the academic S&T system. Now, innovation has become part of the agenda for federal and state policies and has attracted increased business interest.

The construction of a national system for science and technology began in the 1960s with the creation of a fund (FUNTEC) by the National Bank for Economic Development (BNDES) to support the establishment of graduate programs in engineering and hard sciences. In 1968, the Ministry of Education promoted a reform of the federal university system, introducing academic departments to replace the traditional chairs and creating full-time positions for faculty members holding postgraduate degrees. In 1967, a new funding agency was created, the Financing Agency for Studies and Projects (FINEP), which in 1969 became the managing agency of a new and robust fund, the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (FNDCT), which replaced the one established earlier by BNDES. This fund provided FINEP, the CNPq, and CAPES with ample financial resources to provide various forms of support to stimulate the large-scale expansion of the postgraduate programs and research activities in universities and research institutes that took place during the 1970s and most of the 1980s.

FINEP provided grants to academic institutes or departments and to research centers to cover all needs for institutional maintenance or expansion. The CNPq provided fellowships for undergraduate research and graduate studies, as well as research grants for individuals or groups, and also created new research centers or took charge of existing ones. CAPES, on the other hand, dedicated the majority of its efforts to supporting graduate programs, providing fellowships for students and establishing a national system for evaluating and accrediting graduate courses.

The Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT) was created in 1985, signaling the increased importance of S&T in the federal government. FINEP and the CNPq (as well as its research institutes) were absorbed into the structure of the new ministry, which consolidated two decades of federal initiatives that had made possible the establishment of a national system of S&T with several tens of thousands of researchers. The MCT managed to obtain substantial budget increases for the FNDCT and the CNPq. Because the system had developed in a spontaneous manner, its expansion had occurred in a very uneven way. Disciplines such as engineering, physics, mathematics, and some areas of biological and medical sciences, which had strong leadership, had attracted most of the students and financial support. This led the MCT to create the Support Program for Scientific and Technological Development (PADCT), partially financed by a loan from the World Bank, to develop strategic areas such as chemistry, biotechnology, advanced materials, and instrumentation. …

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