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Centers of Excellence

Scientist Jacques Marcovitch conducted a detailed 1992 study, entitled Centers of Excellence in PeD in Brazil , on a small group of high-quality research centers in an attempt to identify the reasons for their success. They were Petrobrás's Cenpes, in Rio de Janeiro; the Institute of Mechanical Engineering of the Federal University of Santa Catarina, in Florianópolis; the Heart Institute (Instituto do Coração) at USP; the Butantan Institute, belonging to São Paulo State's SCTDE; IMPA (Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics), associated with the CNPq, in Rio de Janeiro; the research center of Light Metal, Inc. (Metal Leve S.A.), a leading Brazilian manufacturer of car and airplane components; the research center of Rhodia-Poulenc, a French chemical industrial group, in Paulínia, São Paulo; and the soybean research program at the Federal University of Viçosa, Minas Gerais.

Despite their different contexts and purposes, all these centers of excellence--government institutes, university research centers, and research and development units in private and public corporations--shared a common set of features. First, they benefited from their external environment, including the availability of financial support, different types of incentives, market niches, or well-identified local opportunities. A well-established and competent leadership identified these opportunities and put them to proper use. Second, they made world-class contributions in their fields of knowledge. This was true even for IMPA, which works in the most abstract fields of mathematics but still has an important impact on the teaching of mathematics at all levels in Brazilian education. Third, the leaderships of these centers shared an entrepreneurial spirit. The most outstanding researchers or institution-builders all shared the ability to identify successful goals for their institution, to garner resources, and to identify talent. Fourth, the leaders of these institutions had an ability to find a proper organizational model. According to Marcovitch, these entrepreneurs found innovative mechanisms that freed them from bureaucratic labyrinths, and they adopted institutional frameworks that supported the achievement of their goals. Constant organizational adaptations, specialized, task-oriented units, efficient decision making, and consensus among the leaders and the researchers were key features of success.

These conditions of success also help to explain why the centers of excellence are the exception rather than the rule among Brazilian research institutions. Most research centers in universities and government institutions follow civil service rules, which favor fixed procedures and conformity rather than entrepreneurship and managerial flexibility. Protected until recently by strong trade barriers or state monopolies, Brazilian companies did not make efficiency and innovation their priorities, and either did not invest in research and development or did not use products derived from their research and development units. If Brazilian science is to play a significant role in the country's future, Brazil's institutions need an environment of entrepreneurship, quality, and institutional flexibility that is typical of its centers of excellence. Only then can these centers become the rule rather than the exception.

Policy Perspectives

Brazil has developed a significant infrastructure for research, development, and innovation. Nevertheless there is a clear need to redirect the entire science and technology sector from the patterns established in the 1970s to others more in line with the realities of the 1990s. This new pattern should bring this sector much closer to the educational and productive sectors.

The fact that most Brazilian researchers and research projects are in the universities does not mean that they are as involved with professional, technical, and general education. Areas in need of improvement include establishing closer links between science and technology and the productive sector and stimulating the private sector to increase its share of the country's research and development efforts. Both cases require moving from a vertical approach, concerned with graduate education, leading-edge technology, and large science projects, to a more horizontal one, aimed at increasing the general level of competence of the population and the productive system as a whole. This change in emphasis requires that the institutions providing support and incentives to science also be changed. The two traditions of research and education that exist in Brazil--one more associative, based on the civil society, and more entrepreneurial; the other more hierarchical, centralized, and bureaucratic--point to the main direction of change, from the second to the first. Research groups and institutions need to increase their autonomy and flexibility. There is also a need for the government to establish general guidelines and incentives and for its policy decisions to be more pragmatic, ad hoc, and goal-oriented.

Traditionally, Brazil's technological community has restricted knowledge to a few sectors rather than used it for the benefit of the whole society. The Brazilian science and technology sector was subject to an extensive review in 1993. According to the main conclusions and recommendations of the study, which was published in 1994 by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (Fundação Getúlio Vargas), science and technology are more important than ever for Brazil. If the country is to raise living standards, consolidate a modern economy, and participate as a significant partner in an increasingly integrated and global world, the economy must modernize and adjust to an internationally competitive environment. Education should be expanded and improved at all levels. As the economy grows and new technologies are introduced, new challenges will emerge in the production and use of energy, environmental control, public health, the management of large cities, and changes in the composition of the labor force. Strong indigenous competence will be necessary for Brazil to participate as an equal in international negotiations and in the setting of international standards that may have important economic and social consequences for Brazil.

According to the study, any new science and technology policy should stimulate the researcher's initiative and creativity; establish strong links between the researcher's work and the requirements of the economy, the educational system, and society as a whole; make Brazilian science and technology truly international; and strengthen the country's educational and science and technology capabilities. To fulfill these tasks, Brazil's technology policies need to be redirected in line with new economic realities. In the short run, policies need to be geared to the reorganization and technological modernization of the industrial sector. Permanent policies need to be established to induce the more dynamic sectors of the productive system to, as a main priority, enter a continuous process of innovation and incorporation of new technologies into the productive process and to keep in step with technical progress in the world economy.

The study also concluded that research groups in universities and government institutes should be strongly encouraged to link to the productive sector and to engage in applied work, while maintaining a high level of academic and basic research activities. The resources for applied work should not come from the budget for basic activities but from specific sources in government agencies, special programs, private firms, and independent foundations. Applied projects need to be evaluated in terms of their academic quality, as well as their economic viability and social and economic significance.

Globalization requires a profound rethinking of the old debate between scientific self-sufficiency and internationalism, which are not necessarily contradictory. Brazil has much to gain as it increases its ability to participate fully as a respected partner in the international scientific and technological community. To meet this objective, fellowship programs of the CAPES (Council for Advanced Professional Training) and of the CNPq for studies abroad need to be revised and expanded eventually. Brazil will benefit most fully from a studies-abroad program by awarding fellowships to first-rate students. Provisions also need to be made for postdoctoral programs both abroad and in Brazil and to bring top-quality scholars from other countries for extended periods, or even permanent appointments, in Brazilian university and research institutions.

The channels for cooperation among Brazilians, international agencies and institutions, and the international scientific community need to be expanded. The World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the United Nations Development Programme (see Glossary) have played important roles in providing resources for capital investment, research support, or the development of Brazilian institutions. This support provides resources as well as international expertise and exposure. One possible future role for international agencies might be to stimulate the process of institutional reform.

The issues of protectionism versus market competitiveness loom large in Brazil's relations with industrialized countries. In particular, scientific and technological developments demonstrate a need to emphasize pragmatism over ideology. Brazil's instruments of technological and industrial policy include tax incentives, tariff protection, patent legislation, government procurement, and long-term investments in technological projects in association with the private sector. All of these serve a useful purpose, but adequate patent and intellectual property protection remains key to the normalization of Brazil's relations with the industrialized countries.

New and systematic means to incorporate technology into the industrial process are needed to emphasize the development and dissemination of norms, standards, and procedures for technological transfer and quality improvement. Easy access of scientists to libraries and databases in the country and abroad can ensure a well-organized and properly funded information infrastructure, which makes use of the latest technologies in electronic communication and networking. New technologies and competencies developed elsewhere have underscored the need to reevaluate the role of the CNPq's IBICT (Brazilian Institute of Scientific and Technological Information).

Data as of April 1997

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Brazil Table of Contents