Brazil needs to spend more on research and development as a proportion of GDP, the head of one of its public funding agencies has said.
Luis Fernandes, president of the Funding Authority for Studies and Projects (Finep), Brazil’s innovation agency, said that although spending has increased since 2004, it is still on a “much smaller scale than the country needs”.
But he warned that increasing the country’s expenditure on research and development will work only up to a point, and encouraging businesses to innovate may be a more effective way to boost innovation.
Brazil spends less than 2 per cent of its GDP on research and development from public and private sources, Mr Fernandes said at the 67th Annual Meeting of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science. He added that this was less than South Korea, which spends almost 4 per cent, but higher than Japan.
“We can and must increase public investment,” he said at the meeting, held earlier this month at the Federal University of São Carlos in the state of São Paulo.
But he warned that the effect of boosting investment would have a limit. “It will be more effective if we promote business innovation in Brazil,” he said.
He added that to have adequate funding for science, technology and innovation in Brazil, the National Scientific and Technological Development Fund (FNDCT) needed to be better supported. Although this funding stream had “strong growth” until 2010, it has shrunk since then.
Brazil is ranked 61st of 143 countries in the Global Innovation Index 2014, pointed out Carlos Nobre, president of Brazilian Federal Agency for the Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (Capes). Speaking at the event, he said that attainment in schools needed to improve or Brazil would struggle to innovate.
“The quality of basic education is required to form a numerically large base of professionals who can act on innovation,” Professor Nobre said.
He added that most doctorates in Brazil are awarded in science and engineering subjects, but that humanities and social sciences may also be important in innovation. “There is a relationship of STEM subjects with innovation, but some feel that the term should be STEAM, to include the arts,” he said.
However, Professor Nobre conceded that computer science was also important for innovation, and that Brazil's annual cohort of 200 PhDs in the subject is “extremely insufficient”. He added that Brazil produces 1,500 engineering doctorates every year, well short of the number needed.
Capes is now funding more postdoctoral scholarships than previously, he added.
Hernan Chaimovich, president of Brazil’s National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), said that while it was important to launch funding programmes for postdocs working in universities and research institutes, CNPq’s funding fell between 2002 and 2015.
He added that the council’s budget needed to increase, as it often has to carry out tasks set by ministries and other federal agencies on top of its core remit of funding research and innovation.