Scientists protest budget cuts in Brazil
- New bill proposes transferring ‘unused’ funds from public institutions to São Paolo state treasury
- More than US$180 million research funding will be affected in 2020 if bill approved
- São Paulo state universities produced one third of Brazil’s science in 2019
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Brazilian scientists have collected more than 90,000 signatures in less than a week against a bill that would slash the science and research budget in the state of São Paulo, which produces about half of Brazil’s scientific output.
Science across the country, not just research in São Paulo, will be harmed if the bill is approved, the scientific community says. They say institutions that contribute to public health and knowledge development should be allowed to continue their work. The Academy of Sciences of the State of São Paulo launched the petition, saying science is essential to face current challenges and for the country’s economic development.
The bill was presented on 12 August by São Paulo Governor, João Doria, of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party. The bill includes proposals to close foundations and public organisations, and transfer financial reserves from institutes to the state treasury.
“Research in São Paulo is threatened, but resources have plummeted in almost all states.”
Ildeu Moreira, president, Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science
If approved, this would mean the withdrawal by the end of the year of about one billion Brazilian reals — currently about US$180 million — from the University of São Paulo, the University of Campinas (Unicamp) and the State University of São Paulo (Unesp). The bill will also threaten operations at the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), which has the highest state funding agency budget in Brazil.
These universities are among the largest in the country and their researchers have participated in nearly 40 per cent of the COVID-19 studies published in Brazil this year. Almost ten per cent of the state’s goods and services tax revenue goes to the three universities.
Research institutes and universities across the state depend on FAPESP for support. A statement from FAPESP’s Superior Council says that it is a mistake to consider unspent funds as a “financial surplus” that can be used to address deteriorating state finances — an economic consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic — as these funds have been committed to long-term research projects, scholarships and other innovations supported by the foundation.
“In fact, in the last five years, FAPESP received R$5.7 billion [US$1 billion] from the State Treasury and spent a total of R$6.2 billion [US$1.1 billion]. The difference was paid with the reserves,” the statement says.
As it is urgent, the bill will not be discussed by special committees in São Paulo’s House of Representatives, the president of the science and technology committee, Congressman Sergio Víctor, confirmed to SciDev.Net. However, he says that state deputies had three days to suggest amendments, resulting in more than 600 suggested changes to the bill as a whole.
These amendments must be reviewed and discussed in plenary before the bill is voted on, which Doria hopes will happen by mid-September, to be able to include the changes in the 2021 state budget.
“However, due to the complexity of the proposal and the variety of issues involved, the government will have difficulty in doing so,” Victor says. “Research institutions receive the money once a year, but that is not how they spend it. They depend on reserve funds to meet their commitments.” Voting should happen before the end of the year.
Ildeu Moreira, president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, is concerned that the bill will increase the difficulties facing science and technology in Brazil.
The federal government is considering budget cuts to Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES) and the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), Brazil’s major research support entities. They face budget cuts of up to 18 per cent, while Moreira warns that the Ministry of Science and Technology could lose 16 per cent of its budget next year.
“Research in São Paulo is threatened, but resources have plummeted in almost all states. Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Amazonas and others have long been cutting their science funds. If the federal government makes more cuts, it will mean a cascading budget contraction in other states," he tells SciDev.Net.
The São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) is a SciDev.Net donor.