Is Science a Priority in Less Developed Countries?


burnersTwenty five years ago the Christian Democrat President of Chile Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle invited the most prominent scientific authorities in the world to visit Chile, or, as he called it, the end of the world. In the agenda one simple question: can less developed countries (LDCs) perform long-term science at the same level that developed countries do? Most people attended from the World Bank, AAAs, Japanese and Korean authorities, and many others of the main scientific institutions in the world. I was there, too. The Minister of Science and Technology, Israel Vargas, included me in his team from Brazil.

Implicit in this question was the fact that in LDCs, science and technology is not a priority. This still seems to be the case. The Minister of Finance in Brazil amended the constitution to constrain spending. As an example, the budget of 2018 cannot exceed the budget of 2017, plus inflation. Minister Meireles did not include science and technology as a priority, which would have gotten around the amendment, the way health and education were.

The budget is hurting us in other ways. Institutions linked to the Ministry of Science and Technology are going bankrupt, after the 40% cut in their budget for 2017, including The National Laboratory of Astrophisics, the National Institute of Airspace Technology, The Brazilian Center of Research in Physics and the Emilio Goeldi Museum. All are struggling to pay basic maintenance.

We are not alone. Equador invested US$1 billion to establish the Yachay Tech University and attracted some of the most competent native scientist working abroad. Yet many were fired. In Mexico, President Peña Nieto promised to increase the investment in science and technology to 1% of the NGP. The first three years of Nieto’s term were promising, as investments in science and technology increased to 0.6% of the NGP.  However over the next two years the overall budget in SC&T was reduced to 0.5% of the NGP.

The question is: Is science and technology a priority in Brazil? Except for the investments we made to train our scientist here, the answer is no. We still invest less in science and technology than we should. We must exclude science and technology from the constitutional amendment, combined with health and education. We must also invest 5% of current expenses in science and technology. Finally, we are trying to convince the mayors of two hundred counties that house universities to invest 1% of the taxes received by the county in the universities they lodge. The name of this project is Save the University and may be included in the agenda of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science. This is absolutely necessary, because many important universities are lacking funds from the Ministry of Science and Technology, particularly the State University of Rio de Janeiro and the State University of North of Rio. Graduate programs may be discontinued, which will eliminate the driver for basic scientific research in this country.

Luiz Antonio Barreto de Castro

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