Funding cuts for Brazil's chief research agency may affect 80,000 researchers

Funding cuts for Brazil's chief research agency may affect 80,000 researchers

Brazil’s primary science-funding agency, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), may discontinue providing scholarships beyond September. The announcement made on August 15 is the latest in line of the budgetary cut declarations made by CNPq, the Ministry of Science’s research agency, since the beginning of the year. In February, CNPq had shared that their funds would not last till the year end.

The latest development has put the future of over 80,000 students and researchers in Brazil in jeopardy. The impact will be felt most by the undergraduates and PhD students, who use the monetary assistance not just for research support, but also “to live, to eat, and to pay their bills,” shares Daniel Martins-de-Souza, a biochemist at the University of Campinas in Sao Paulo. What compounds the problem is that the scholarship holders are not allowed to receive any other type of income.

Distressed by the latest turn of events and by  the dismal financial support for science in Brazil in recent times, students have started looking at other alternatives. Some have decided to approach smaller, local funding agencies. Others have decided to apply to universities outside the country, further increasing the brain drain that South America’s largest country has witnessed over the past few years. Some others are contemplating leaving research altogether. Reflecting on the situation, Marcos Buckeridge, the director of the National Institute of Bioethanol Science and Technology, stated that, “Science is walking backwards in Brazil.

Even while they consider their next steps, many students have decided to take to the streets to protest just like they did in February, after the previous announcement of federal budgetary cuts, and much like their counterparts in neighbouring Argentina did in May. On their part, senior scientists are supporting the students through an online petition (which has already crossed 300,000 signatures), urging the government to take immediate steps to resolve the crisis.

However, it seems unlikely that Brazil’s government may be able to improve the situation. The country’s economy has grown only 1.1% in the past two years, still reeling from the recession of 2015-16. In June, CNPq approached the government for funds it needs to make it through the rest of the year, which amount to $89mn. Although the government provided its approval, the Ministry of Economy has not authorized the allocation of the funds. Science reports that “the ministry is yet to decide on CNPq’s request and does not have a deadline for doing so.”

Brazil’s scientific community, which is reeling under the financial crunch, is hoping for a quick resolution. However, given the continuing state of the economy and the ensuing periodical budgetary cuts, some senior researchers urge looking for a long-term solution. Mayana Zatz, director of the Human Genome and Stem Cell Research Centre at the University of Sao Paulo, suggests the creation of fiscal incentives for the private sector to invest in scientific research, reducing the dependency on federal funding.

Which way will Brazil science and the community go? We will know in the days to come.

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