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  • Brazilian research students 'need higher grants'

An urgent increase is needed in the value of grants and fellowships awarded to research students in Brazil, according to a resolution passed last week at the annual meeting of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of the Science (SBPC).

Increases are also needed, says the resolution, in the awards made to undergraduate students taking research training courses, known as 'scientific initiation'. At present, a masters student receives about 720 reais (US$245) a month, and a doctoral student 1,070 reais; those taking the initiation courses receive only 240 reais.

The SBPC members add that these low levels of support are "increasingly hindering both research and the promotion of science and technology" in the country, and are "threatening the quality and the continuity of [Brazil's] scientific production".

The resolution passed at the SBPC meeting, which took place in Goiânia from 7 to 12 July, complains that "the federal government has been systematically reducing financial support for basic research and postgraduate studies".

There has been no increase in the value of research student grants and fellowships in absolute terms over the past eight years, a period during which, according to DIEESE — a trade-union funded statistical research organisation — wages should have grown by 90 per cent to maintain their purchasing power.

Biochemist Jorge Almeida Guimarães, secretary of the SBPC and a researcher in the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, says that the freeze on the value of research student grants "constitutes a serious problem", as it risks leading masters and doctoral students to give up research and seek better-paying forms of employment.

He points out that about 40,000 students pass through Brazil's scientific initiation programme every year, of which approximately 25,000 receive government grants, either from the federal or from state governments. "These students are natural candidates for masters and doctorate courses, but they face unattractive prospects", he says.

In addition, says Guimarães, the number of research student grants has been substantially reduced over the past few years. "In 1992, 42 per cent of master students and 60 per cent of doctorate students received grants; in contrast, the current figures are only 16 and 30 per cent respectively," he says.

Under an agreement between the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Education, grants to postgraduate students are supposed to be increased in line with academic pay in federal universities. However, this has not happened in recent years.

University academic staff have received two salary adjustments, one a straight increase of 10 per cent, that other as a 'bonus' that does not count towards pension entitlement, and is based on individual performance.

According to Guimarães, however, "the bonus represented a correction of about 25 per cent in academic salaries, which was not granted to research students".

The need to pay increased attention to the training of researchers was also highlighted in a document about the need to promote education, science and technology that has been sent by the directors of the SBPC to all candidates in Brazils' forthcoming presidential elections.

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