More than 80,000 Brazilian students and researchers could lose their government-funded fellowships in the coming weeks. The director of the CNPq, the Ministry of Science’s research agency, said last week during an interview to Jornal da USP that CNPq only has enough resources to pay for this month’s stipends. From September onward, the agency will have no means to support many of these researchers.
The CNPq’s budget deficit has been known since the beginning of the year. In an interview last February, also with Jornal da USP, the CNPq’s director warned that resources would only make it until September. But months have passed and nothing has been done to resolve the situation. The agency needs 330 million reais ($82 million US) to pay all ongoing fellowships until the end of the year.
The funding problem affects mainly undergraduates and PhD students, but not exclusively. Part of the money goes to reward more experienced researchers who make significant contributions to their fields.
In a desperate move to cut expenses, CNPq announced last week via Twitter that it would suspend 4,500 research fellowships. These fellowships had been assigned to specific projects or institutions, but were still vacant. Also this year, CNPq did not issue the call for its annual research grant program Chamada Universal, which fund scientists with up to 120,000 reais ($29,000 US).
Hernán Chaimovich, a researcher at the University of São Paulo who headed CNPq between 2015 and 2016, stresses to The Scientist that the situation may still be reversed if a last-minute solution is found. But if the funding deficit remains, he says, he believes “it’s going to be an enormous setback for science, technology, and innovation for the whole country.”
The director of the Human Genome and Stem Cell Research Center at the University of São Paulo, Mayana Zatz, also says she hopes that the government can find a solution in the next few days. She worries that a lack of funding for Brazilian science can prompt a brain drain. “Science and research are not things that you can interrupt and return to a couple of years later,” she says. “If you interrupt it, you lose all the investment.”
Zatz argues that the government should create fiscal incentives to stimulate private investment in scientific research, making Brazilian science less vulnerable to budget cuts.
Asked for comment, the Ministry of Science’s press office pointed to a recent piece in Agência Brasil in which the Minister of Science Marcos Pontes was quoted saying: “We have a budget issue that is being solved. Minister Onyx Lorenzoni [the government’s Chief of Staff] already gave his word that this is going to be solved in September . . . to complete the budget.” The CNPq did not respond to a request for comment.
The Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science and other scientific institutions have launched an online petition in defense of the CNPq. In just a week they have collected more than 300,000 signatures.
Ignacio Amigo is a Spanish writer based in Manaus, in the Brazilian Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @IgnacioAmigoH, read his work at ignacioamigo.contently.com or email him at email@example.com.