Brazil cuts federal science spending by 90 percent

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Brazilian academics have said they are losing hope over the future of science in the country after another devastating blow to research funding.

Many projects already underway will have to stop, and there is likely to be significant brain drain after President Jair Bolsonaro signed a bill that reduces the federal science budget by 90 percent, experts told Times Higher Education.

Renato Janine Ribeiro, president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, said the cuts, which diverted 600 million reais ($108 million) earmarked for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to other departments, will cause “serious damage.”

Ribeiro, a former education minister, said the budget had represented the bulk of Brazilian institutions’ research funding and that many graduates were now “looking to go abroad.”

“This government has repeatedly shown it is against education, and against science,” he said. “We are doing our best to keep up hope, we are fighting, but I am pessimistic.”

Jefferson Cardia Simões, deputy provost for research at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, said the last-minute diversion of the money means that there would be little left of the 200 million reais ($36 million) that had already been promised for about 8,000 researcher grants, and that research laboratories would have to be suspended “because there is no money for maintenance.”

“There is something more troubling in the air, which is the denial of the rational and the attack on the entire Brazilian scientific community,” Simões said.

Marcelo Knobel, professor of physics and a former rector of the University of Campinas, said the best hope for research in the country was the end of Bolsonaro’s presidency.

Although a Senate committee recommended in October that the president should be charged with nine offenses, including crimes against humanity, for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic, his opponents may have to wait until October 2022 for the chance to vote him out of office.

Knobel said the research community had been desperately trying to show Parliament “the importance of science and technology for the future of the country, but it has been useless.”

“Without scholarships for students and fellowships for postgraduate students, the next generation of scholars will be lost,” he said.

Knobel said scientists were trying to mobilize international pressure. “But if the government is ignoring the international community on climate change, I don’t think it will be very different in this case. We have very little hope.”



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