Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Educate and Innovate/Sharma Replies

Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Educate and Innovate/Sharma Replies

Article excerpt

Ruchir Sharma suggests that to sustain its success, Brazil should devote more resources to infrastructure projects, education, and research and development. But he fails to mention that over the past several years, Brazil has attempted to do just that, launching a series of programs meant to boost industry and technical education. However noble, these initiatives have failed to address the structural reforms necessary to promote the innovation that the country desperately needs.

To begin with, this past April, Brazil announced a stimulus package of $35 billion to aid its industrial base. The legislation also eliminated billions of dollars in payroll taxes, created subsidies for lending, and promised to weaken the currency. Although these measures will certainly spur some growth, they are centralized, capital-intensive, and offer little in the way of research and development or technology, ultimately reinforcing the outdated industrial model in place since the mid-twentieth century. In particular, the package will do little to eliminate the so-called Brazil cost-the additional expense for goods in the country due to the lack of infrastructure, high taxes and interest rates, and a complicated bureaucracy. According to the World Bank, it takes an average of 119 days to start a new business in Brazil, the fifth-longest time in the world. And the country remains one of the most expensive in which to conduct business. For example, even after Foxconn came to Brazil to make products for Apple, the first batch of iPhones made in Brazil cost the same amount as imported phones.

The Brazilian government has also attempted to support industry and innovation in the long term, particularly by improving education. But those efforts have proved similarly inept. For instance, the Ministry of Education devotes $750,000 every two years to fund the best proposals for schoolbooks. This year's process required bidders to attach dvds to their books, in the hopes that they would make the educational experience more interactive. Yet the ministry is also sending schools tablet computers, which cannot play DVDs.

Another example of this ineptitude is the Science Without Borders program, a $1.65 billion scholarship fund for Brazilian students to study science, technology, engineering, or mathematics in the United States and other countries. Yet when those students return home, they will have trouble putting their degrees to use, since Brazil does not recognize degrees obtained abroad. Students hoping to have their degrees recognized must endure a years-long validation process before taking doctorate-level jobs, defeating the very purpose of Science Without Borders.

This educational protectionism also extends to foreigners hoping to enter Brazilian academic institutions. At the University of São Paulo, the largest and most important university in the country, only 2.8 percent of the 56,000 students are foreign. And scholars who hope to enter the Brazilian university system have no formal mechanisms to aid their applications, forcing them to rely on local professors to help them obtain visas and work permits.

To truly advance innovation in industry and education, Brazil must experiment. Instead of retaining an outmoded manufacturing system, the country should embrace new models from around the world, such as the "maker movement," a do-it-yourself approach that encourages individuals to learn engineering-based crafts and empowers them to design new inventions through open-source collaboration and technologies such as 3-D printing.

The country should apply the same kind of courage to explore new ideas with regard to education. It should begin by accepting foreign degrees and opening its educational system to students and professors from abroad, which would alleviate the shortage of qualified professionals in the country and add to its talent base. Having done that, Brazil can support new industrial pursuits by creating a national innovation institution to serve as a laboratory of ideas and as a nexus among individuals, businesses, universities, and the government. …

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