Monday, March 18, 2013

Áreas de Tecnologia: Scientific Potential in Brazilian Universities

Note to Reader: As of 3/18/2013, Blogger has a glitch in the matrix, and some videos may not show on mobile devices. 

This post is Part 3 in an ongoing blog series on technological development in Latin American. Part 1, Campos del Cambio, which offers an overview of LA technology spaces can be found here. Part 2, where I outline a picture of Brazilian technological development, particularly start-ups and funding, can be found here.

Here is a glance at scientific development in Brazilian universities based on a chapter by Marco Antonio Zago entitled, "Evolution and Profile of Brazilian Scientific Production," from the text published in 2012, Technological Innovations in Brazil: Performance, Policies, and Potential, edited by Ricardo Ubiraci Sennes and Antionio Britto Filho. To better understand technological development in Brazil, I draw, in part, from Technological Innovations in Brazil: Performance, Policies, and Potential; a detailed overview of S&T development in Brazil. Interested in Brazil and technology? Add this text into your data stream.  

In the previous post, we examined the growth of state funding for technology start-ups in Brazil. An interesting precursor-approach to better understand the Start-Up Brazil movement might be to examine the state of scientific production in Brazilian universities, the place where so many future tech-workers will be trained. This is our brief charge here. 

In "Evolution and Profile of Brazilian Scientific Production," Marco Antonio Zago explored, in no thin detail, the current state of academic scientific production. Zago acknowledges the important roles that private industry and companies will play in the continued development of technology in Brazil. Yet, wisely, he marks our attention toward the roles that universities will play in this development and the need to track (qualitatively and qualitatively) the production of Ph.D. students, research articles, patents, and products.

Zago calls for deeper partnerships between industry/government and the universities that will create the technology workers who will help design and build tech-Brazil. In particular, Zago points to a dearth in computer science and mathematics students. He also comments on the roles that research institutes will play not only in the development of research, but also in acting as bridges between government, industry, and universities.

Of course, there are a few Ph.D. granting programs in Tier 1 Brazilian STEM departments. There are also programs such as Science without Borders that seek to develop the scientific student community in Brazil through exchange programs and a variety of Ph.D. joint or sandwich programs. According to the SWB site, "Science Without Borders (SWB) is a program funded by the Brazilian R&D agencies CNPq and CAPES, which seeks to promote the internationalization and expansion of science and technology, and to foster innovation and competitiveness through the exchange of Brazilian and international researchers and students." Zago might call for more robust programs that prepare students within Brazil, rather than exporting top talent to foreign universities. 

(Video source: Western University)  

(Video source: IIEGlobal)

He provides compelling evidence that tech-growth will continue in Brazil and that similar growth needs to be seen in university post-graduates. Ironically, this is the exact opposite call that seems to be coming from so many in the US who lament the Ph.D. glut, which now seems to be extending into STEM fields. Brazil's university growth and publication counts have been robust if you considered that Havard was founded in 1636, and one of the premier universities in Brazil, University of São Paulo, was founded in 1934. 

He identifies 3 main academic challenges with S&T development in Brazil universities: publication quality, publication profile, and publication topic. The first issue is publication quality: although publication count is up in Brazil, Zago calls for an increase in the quality of those publications and wider publishing in Tier 1 journals. The second issue is publication profile: where he argued that Brazilian scientific output has been focused historically in the life sciences, but growth is needed in S&T research spaces. The third issue is publication topic: where he calls for greater focus on relevant, challenging, and ambitious S&T research. Achieving this will be contingent on a number of factors: persistent investment, re-organization of research processes and management, focus on relevant and ambitious topics, connecting competencies across disciplines, and minimizing government bureaucratic restrictions. No small challenge that.


Rightly so, Zago looks beyond university graduates, calling for an examination of the pipelines that feed students into research institutions. 
"A fundamental constraint that undermines the basis of the whole system is the limited quality in the level of pre-university education. Associated with low-level indexes to secondary eduction, the issue of quality severely limits access and functioning of higher education in the desirable standards."
It is one thing to find, train, and fund future STEM graduates, is is quite another to develop a larger pool of students who have been equipped with the base skills to navigate the rigors of graduate level study and who can swim in those dense waters. Strangely, we have seen this same discussion in the U.S. when examining STEM scores of public school students comparative to similar post-industrial nations, where US students lag behind (sometimes far behind) the average scores of students in similar nations (places like Germany and Switzerland come to mind).


And here is what that goodly work looks like. 

(Video Source: PBS NewsHour)

Zago places articulation at the center of this debate; the Brazilian S&T system is tied to larger entities (government, companies, and agencies) and their abilities to interact with coherence will be key. He argued for clearer articulation of policy, plan, and execution at the national, state, and municipalities levels in regard to S&T development. 

In the next part of this blog series, we will examine a positive case study where all these issues are at play: the municipality of Sao Jose de Campos, where technology and education have significantly improved quality of life and have placed this area at the forefront of Brazil technological development.  

Now for your viewing pleasure. 

Lengthy overview of technology and scientific development in Brazil. 

(Video source: Stanford Law School.)

A bit of early history on scientific development in Brazil.

(Video source: PesquisaFAPESP)

An example of forward thinking research conducted in Brazilian universities.

(Video source: National Cancer Institute)

Indiana University has an open access site on Brazilian research here

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