Royal Society celebrates Anglo-Brazilian links

São Paulo announces further tie-ins at three-day symposium

October 3, 2013

Stronger links: Brazil is looking to the UK for research collaborations

The UK is the fastest-growing collaborator for researchers in Brazil’s richest state, data from Fapesp, the São Paulo Research Foundation, have shown.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the foundation’s scientific director, said that applications for joint projects with the UK research councils grew from just one in 2010 to 37 in 2012.

Representatives of the foundation attended a symposium at the Royal Society in London last week aimed at strengthening the links between Brazilian and European researchers in areas such as climate change, biofuels, biodiversity and nanotechnology, and boosting the internationalisation of the region’s research.

Professor Brito Cruz used the event (held from 25 to September) to announce Fapesp collaborations with Imperial College London and the University of Manchester, bringing the number of agreements struck between UK universities and the foundation to 14.

According to the Scopus database, Brazil is now 15th in the world in terms of the number of research papers it produces, with its average citations per paper higher than the other emerging “Bric” nations’ figures and South Korea’s.

Although the foundation represents only one of Brazil’s 26 states, Professor Brito Cruz stressed that São Paulo produces 45 per cent of the country’s PhDs and half of its scientific articles, an output larger than that of any South American nation except Brazil.

Speaking at the opening of the three-day symposium, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, hailed the importance of collaborations between the UK and Brazil.

“I’ve been able to see first-hand in several visits to Brazil the quality of science cooperation between our two countries and have been very keen to see that cooperation advance further,” he said.

Despite the rapid rate at which the collaboration is growing – something Professor Brito Cruz and Mr Willetts attributed to agreements with UK research councils that allow joint funding decisions – the overall value of the work remains relatively low.

In total, Fapesp has spent only £3.4 million on the 66 research grants it has awarded since 2010 with UK organisations, a figure matched by funding from UK partners.

In addition, there are no UK scientists among the five senior academics on the agency’s pilot scheme, the São Paulo Excellence Chairs.

The scheme funds world-class academics to establish research groups in the state, spending 12 weeks a year there for three to five years.

However, Professor Brito Cruz told THE that UK universities are among the institutions that the state will be looking to headhunt for the scheme.

Bringing foreign researchers into the country has been a problem for Brazil, where the higher education system traditionally has been seen as bureaucratic and challenging for non-native speakers.

However, at more junior levels the number of foreign academics coming to São Paulo is high, Professor Brito Cruz said.

Around 31 per cent of Fapesp’s postdoctoral fellowships in physical sciences were granted to foreigners last year, primarily from Canada, the US, the UK, India and Pakistan, he said.

Mr Willetts added that more exchange programmes would boost collaboration even further.

“The whole ‘brain drain’ way of thinking needs to be replaced with recognition that as science becomes increasingly global, people are likely to, in the course of their careers, be doing science in more than one country,” he said.

elizabeth.gibney@tsleducation.com

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