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Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva has pledged to double spending on science and technology to 2 per cent of gross domestic product by the end of his government's term, with particular emphasis on increasing financial support for basic research.

The new government, which will take office in January, has also promised to improve science education and to set up a national science communication programme, involving scientific institutions, universities and museums.

But it has also raised concerns in the scientific community with a separate proposal to transfer control of the country's 53 federal universities from the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Science and Technology.

José Ribamar Ferreira, president of the Brazilian Association of Science Centres and Museums, is enthusiastic about the government's proposals on science communication. "There are several science communication activities in Brazil, but these are fragmented with no linkage among individuals and institutions responsible for those activities," he says. "A national programme which has governmental support — both financially and politically — will indeed be positive."

Ennio Candotti, a physicist at the Federal University of Espírito Santo, is also upbeat. But he stresses that such a programme — for which no details have yet been released to the public — should involve small urban centres, as well as Brazil's main cities. Science should also be presented in an integrated way with art and culture, he says.

Many Brazilian scientists, however, fear that the decision to move responsibility for the universities out of the Ministry of Education could fragment Brazil's education policy, and sidetrack the government from the problems faced by the scientific community. They also say that the process of shifting universities to another ministry could cause excessive bureaucracy.

"We consider such an initiative to be premature, with no wider discussion with the scientific and academic community", says Glaci Zancan, president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science. "It makes no sense to change structures that are working well to fix others [the federal universities] that are problematic."

Her concern is shared by physicist José Simões from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. "Merely removing the universities from one ministry and transferring them to another will not solve anything, but it could detonate a series of bureaucratic restraints," he says. "First of all, we need a diagnosis of the general state of the country's universities, and then a clear government proposal for such institutions and for the whole area of science."

Lula, who won last month's elections with 62 per cent of the votes, has said that politically sensitive scientific issues — such as energy, nuclear technology and genetic engineering — would be widely and democratically discussed. He is also expected to encourage universities, research institutions and technological companies and other stakeholders to have a greater role in formulating science and technology policies.
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