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The Search for Alternatives

In the "search for alternatives" period in the 1930s, political centralization and the first attempt to provide Brazil with modern administrative, military, and educational institutions took place. The main initiatives included the University of São Paulo (Universidade de São Paulo--USP), which was created in 1934 as the country's first university. Its nucleus was a School of Philosophy, Sciences, and Letters, with professors coming from France, Italy, Germany, and other European countries. The USP also brought together several research and higher education institutions in the state, such as the School of Medicine (Faculdade de Medicina), the Polytechnical School (Escola Politécnica), and the School of Law (Faculdade de Direito). (The Polytechnical School includes civil, electrical, mechanical, mining, metallurgical, naval and oceanographic, and chemical engineering departments.) The USP became and still is Brazil's main academic and research institution. Along the same pattern, a national university, the University of Brazil (Universidade do Brasil), was created in Rio de Janeiro in 1939. Today, it is called the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro--UFRJ). A third university created in Rio de Janeiro in 1935, the University of the Federal District (Universidade do Distrito Federal), was closed down by the federal government a few years later.

This model of institutional modernization was also applied to the rest of the country. Except for the USP and a few sectors at the UFRJ, however, the philosophy schools (Faculdades de Filosofia) functioned as teacher colleges and conducted little or no research. The traditional professional schools remained independent and dedicated to their traditional degree-granting activities.

Deep conceptual differences between the USP and the University of Brazil help to explain the different institutional development. The São Paulo elites created the USP as part of an emerging tradition of cultural enlightenment. By contrast, the University of Brazil was the product of a centralized and authoritarian government, under the direct influence of the more conservative sectors of the Roman Catholic Church.

The first institutions for technological research were created in the 1930s. They included the National Institute of Technology (Instituto Nacional de Tecnologia--INT) in Rio de Janeiro and the Institute for Technological Research (Instituto de Pesquisas Tecnológicas--IPT) in São Paulo. They were supposed to provide technical support to an emerging national industry. The INT was involved in the first studies on the use of sugar cane alcohol for engine combustion and coal from Santa Catarina State for the steel industry.

Economic nationalism became dominant by the end of the 1930s. The 1934 Code of Mines declared as government property all resources under the soil; the first steel plant, the National Iron and Steel Company (Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional--CSN), was established in Volta Redonda in 1942, with United States support, and was linked to Brazil's entry into World War II; oil exploration became a state monopoly, and restrictions were placed on foreign and national private interests.

As the federal administration became more centralized and bureaucratized, some of its research institutions suffered. The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation went through a crisis for lack of autonomy and support. The INT gradually turned into an agency that merely provided training courses for the public bureaucracy.

Science and Technology as Modernization, 1945-64

After World War II, it was generally believed that Brazil was becoming a modern, industrial society, and science and technology were to be important components of this trend. Two diverging patterns were already taking shape in the development of science, technology, and higher education in Brazil, roughly corresponding to the broad cleavage in Brazilian society between the economic and political centers of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The first was more entrepreneurial and associative, with strong civilian institutions. The second was more hierarchical, relying on the civilian and military bureaucracies, and was linked to the country's poorer regions through patronage.

São Paulo already had the country's main university, and after World War II the Southeast (Sudeste) Region's scientists organized two leading institutions, the Brazilian Society for Scientific Development (Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência--SBPC) and the São Paulo State Federation to Support Research (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo--FAPESP). The SBPC became Brazil's main voluntary association for Brazilian academics and has been very influential in voicing the scientific community's concerns on national issues, such as protection of intellectual freedom in the years of the military regime, promotion of a national computer industry, and opposition to strict patent legislation. The FAPESP was organized as a very efficient and respected grant-giving agency, which ran according to strict peer-review procedures. It received about 1 percent of the state tax revenues. In addition to the USP, FAPESP, IPT, and SBPC, the state of São Paulo had sixteen other research institutes linked to different branches of the state administration. It also had another research-oriented university, the Campinas State University (Universidade Estadual de Campinas--Unicamp), and a statewide university devoted to professional education, São Paulo State University (Universidade Estadual Paulista--Unesp).

The national government, meanwhile, embarked on its first attempt to muster the power of atomic energy. This effort was made through the combined creation of the National Research Council (Conselho Nacional de Pesquisas--CNPq), now called the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico--CNPq), which kept the traditional acronym, CNPq; the National Nuclear Energy Commission (Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear--CNEN); and the Brazilian Center for Physics Research (Centro Brasileiro de Pesquisas Físicas--CBPF). Together, these three institutions were supposed to develop the full cycle from the production of nuclear fuel to its application in energy generation, and eventually the technology of atomic weaponry. Beleaguered by limited resources, lack of qualified leadership, and international pressures, the atomic energy project was effectively abandoned at the end of the second Getúlio Dorneles Vargas government (president, 1930-45, 1951-54) in 1954. The CNPq was turned into a small, underfunded, grant-giving agency. After its reorganization in the 1970s, the CNPq absorbed the CBPF, by then an academic research center, as one of its institutes (see Nuclear Programs, this ch.).

One of the most successful institutes of the 1950s, the Aeronautical Technology Institute (Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica--ITA), was placed in the city of São José dos Campos, between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The Brazilian Air Force (Fôrça Aérea Brasileira--FAB) organized the ITA with the support of the United States government, working in close association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, the ITA was not restricted to military students and subjects; it became Brazil's leading engineering school, recruiting students from all over the country. ITA graduates went on to occupy central positions in Brazil's industries, research institutions, and main science and technology agencies. The ITA's research branch, the Aerospace Technical Center (Centro Técnico Aeroespacial--CTA), became the basis for Brazil's airplane industry and made São José dos Campos the hub of Brazil's most sophisticated technological industries. What was unique about the ITA was this combination of strong government support, qualified institutional leadership, and civilian orientation. The latter gave it the ability to tap some of the best talent among the country's researchers and students. As a result of the military governments after 1964, the ITA gradually lost its autonomy and civilian character and entered a period of decline.

Data as of April 1997

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