Brazil’s science sector undergoes worst crisis in 20 years

Herton Escobar – O Estado de S. Paulo, 8/30/2015

With no federal funds, agencies cancel notices and delay payment of projects

The economic crisis that is troubling Brazil has not only caused fiscal adjustments, but has also caused cuts to the budgets of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) and to the Ministry of Education (MEC), of 25% and 9%, respectively.

The sector also suffers with the losses of oil royalties and with the plunder of resources reserved for research, which were used as payment for scholarships of the Brazilian program “Science Without Borders” [Ciencia Sem Fronteiras]. In 2014 alone, the program drained R$2.5 billion out of the National Development Fund for Science and Technology (FNDCT).

The atmosphere is the worst it’s been in the past 20 years, according to the president of the Brazilian Society for Science Progress, Helena Nader. Without cash in stock, funding agencies are cancelling notices and delaying payment of thousands of projects.

The cause of the problem lies within the FNDCT, a huge sectorial funds portfolio, which is the main funding resource in the country designed for research. With the 2014 changes in oil royalties’ distribution, the pre-salt resources that nourished the Sectorial Fund for Petroleum (CT-Petro) began to flow to the Social Fund, which is not a part of FNDCT and is not dedicated to science. With this, the amount collected by CT-Petro fell from R$1.4 billion in 2013 to R$140 million in 2014 – and probably won’t even reach R$30 million this year.

FNDCT’s total amount collected therefore also fell from R$4.5 billion in 2013 to R$3.2 billion in 2014; and over R$1 billion of this amount was reserved for the “Science without Borders” program. This scenario is aggravated by the appreciation of the dollar against the Brazilian real, and by recession, which reduce tax collections and impact the budget of foundations that support research.

The National Counsel for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq)’s budget this year foresees a transfer of R$1,22 billion from FNDCT, but only one fourth of this (R$330 million) was received thus far. The Counsel is delaying notice payments approved last year and cancelling or postponing new openings. Only six notices were opened this year, compared to 51 in 2014 and 91 in 2013.

Many scientists are waiting for payments and financing for their approved projects. They remain in line, but having to pay these researches out of their own pockets. Thus, “the priority right now is to pay what is owed before launching new things,” says Olivia, former president of CNPq.

In the academic sphere, in order to refrain from canceling scholarships, a department of the MEC had to cut 100% of capital resources and 75% of the cost of funds for post-grad programs across the country. “We had to adjust to our new reality,” says the director of the Programs and Scholarships of the MEC, Marcio de Castro Silva.

Read article in Portuguese here

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