Science & Technology policy in Brazil – IV

Image: Hamilton Grimaldi


The inconsistencies of innovationism at the university

This chapter addresses three aspects of the relationship between the innovation movement and the university.

The first deals with the entrepreneurial doctrine fostered by innovationism as an attempt to create legitimacy for the strategy that seeks to lead academic communities to formalize a policy of offering scientific knowledge in conjunction with its patent registration. Also called offertist, this approach designates the broader process of financing scientific and technological production aimed at generating patents for those who can commercialize and invest in research and development..

The second aspect addresses innovationism as a form of imposition or technological determinism insofar as it assumes that technical development only provides an efficient solution to a given problem, typical behavior expected from private research and development (R&D). Likewise, universities are expected to function under a new pattern of intervention as private research and knowledge production units. We will see that such a justification is not justified because historically private industry funding for public university R&D has been very low in Brazil; in developed countries this gap also exists.

In the third aspect, we place an alternative approach to innovationism, known as policies to promote science and technology on the demand side, which, contrary to supplyism, presupposes a public (and national) research & development system. Strong enough to link the university with the demand created by the government around demonstrative projects financed as public investment, with feasibility of being reproduced at scale by the public and private companies involved (1) .

Innovationism as a doctrine

The search for a certain techno-scientific education to train administrators, executives and technicians – in what we could call a new trained and qualified middle class (with middle and high income strata) – is directly subordinated to a scale of values ​​imposed by the rules of meritocracy.

The performance of this new middle class is flexible from the point of view of linking models and productivity control of labor markets in relation to opportunities and needs generated by the interests of corporations and large companies.

Innovationism at the university is often confused with broader trends in private investment in S&T. In the last two decades, as a general trend, investment by private companies in university research,

(…) shows a relatively low incidence. It is usually confused with private investment in R&D which reaches, in some cases, 59% in the United States and 76% in Japan, with private industry funding of university R&D: 2% in Japan, 7% in the United States.(2)

The approach of technological innovation as a doctrine is referenced here in a critical way, perhaps a little reductionist considering the relevant role of the Theory of Innovation in the economy (as will be seen later).

This does not compromise the general argument that the movement for innovationism and entrepreneurship at the university is guided by a posture of character offerer of knowledge that assumes that one of the only ways for Science & Technology to reach Society is through companies.

As countless evaluations have pointed out, knowledge only reaches companies embedded in people – a view that stems from a long international experience of research and sociotechnical and constructivist approaches to science and technology over the last 35 years.

The policy of the Brazilian Innovation Law pays for companies to employ masters and doctors to work on specific research and development (R&D) projects. Data from the 2010-2020 decade, however, indicate that out of every ten graduate students in science and technology in Brazil, only three succeed in entering companies to work frequently with general business management, and not technology management and R&D.

The presence of innovationism as a doctrine can be concretely identified in the so-called Legal Framework for Science & Technology (3). The Framework was built over 10 years before the 2016 Coup, as an effort by internal sectors in Brazilian universities linked to a vision of technosciences to build an alliance with the decision-making complex of multinational corporations and private institutions with interests in captive markets of products and services in Brazil.

Doctrinally, the innovationism of the S&T Legal Framework affirms the principle of transferring public resources to increase the productivity of companies, thus claiming that society will receive the benefits resulting from research and technological development.

At the same time that entrepreneurs innovate, they will thus be able to increase their profitability by selling more and better goods and services to society.

This view is controversial, because it is questionable that this is the only way (that of profitability and the private market) as the best way to embrace society in the benefits of science and technology.

The path chosen by Marco Legal is to transform all techno-scientific research units relevant to the economy into social organizations (SO) and promote them through management contracts with the private and government sector.

The fact, however, that Brazilian companies absorb less than 1% of masters and doctors who graduate each year in Brazilian public universities, shows us the limited dimension of business environments, and their lack of functionality, since they do not work with research and development.

A clear indicator of the dysfunctionality of scientific and technological policy to increase companies' propensity to carry out R&D is the fact that only 80 to 100 companies (out of a universe of around 30) innovated by introducing in the Brazilian market (in the 2000s -2010) some change in really transformative processes and products.

This dysfunctionality of the S&T policy has been systematically denounced as anomalous and highly dependent on sources abroad related to closed technological packages, with a very selective degree of openness for hiring personnel in Brazil (4)

In view of this situation, it would be expected that there would be a teaching practice for supporters of innovationism at the university, which would face exposing this anomaly and seek alternatives and means to review this situation of dependence.

Most of the didactic materials and support books of the bibliographies of innovationism focus on the theme of intracapitalist competition within the firm by describing how its protagonists won employees and cut costs to make a product viable. Already reduced to the workforce, they describe how this product enters the competition between competitors in a segment, branch or market.

Innovationists, however, usually contextualize the theory of technological innovation only insofar as it is associated with entrepreneurship; as a rule, under a learning model based on successful cases of international or globalized companies and business organizations. In general, they describe how innovations were developed through strategies to gain control of their sector and create market opportunities.

Analyzing these materials and approaches to teaching innovationism, however, we are faced with serious methodological problems. Adherents of innovation practices, composed of colleagues from Brazilian universities who approach education or technological extension (R&D) as part of the university-company linkage, generally adopt approaches that do not present empirical evidence of the themes they address (with rare exceptions).

They mention, in their place, descriptions of situations and problems experienced in transnational companies and transnational corporations, generally American and European, produced decades ago that would have become classics.

Implicit in this behavior is the obvious fact that, in doing so, professors of business management and innovation believe that the same analytical principles and models of explanation of technological innovation as used in the environments of the four hegemonic countries in this literature are valid in Brazil (United States, Germany , England and France).

They adopt a university-company style and representation that is intended to be similar to those of countries with consolidated ties since World War II, under the assumption that they are principles, methods and projects that can be applied in Brazilian society through an almost mimetic behavior (5).

Deprived of any proven social or sociological theory, interpretations of innovationism are based on assertions, in general, that are not based on local, regional or national historical series on the processes of actors and situations of conflict and resolution within the national system of innovation, or their interrelationships between sectors, clusters and connections between the national system level and similar ones in the international framework.

The "Cases” (an expression in English for “case studies”) are generally used to guide the normative and prescriptive elaboration of political scenarios based on a loose analysis of the observed reality. Furthermore, they reduce society to the restricted dynamic that private enterprise is expected to exert on consumers.

To explain this mimetic behavior, the concept of transduction was elaborated, so called the process of idealizing concrete experiences of successful cases that appear as ideal examples of institutional engineering, but which fail due to countless less complex problems not considered. To understand them, it is necessary to review the cognitive or transduction models regarding the adaptation attempt.(6)

By not adopting such a cautious procedure in the comparative analysis and by the lack of research and reflection procedures to develop a method of critical analysis of the observed reality, the interpretations operate with reductionist concepts about the state in Brazil. In this sense, they are unaware of the importance of the successful research & development experiences of public institutes and laboratories.

Precisely where the “cases” should be collected, since the workforce of science and technology careers is found in public institutes, with a total of 26.625 technicians and researchers in 2017 (7).

Federal public companies innovate more and carry out more research and development activities than industrial companies and private services, according to the 2008 Research on Innovation in Federal State Companies (8).

According to the source above, the innovation rate of federal state-owned companies is 68%, against 38% of industrial and private service companies selected within the scope of the Technological Innovation Survey (Pintec, 2008). The research investigated 72 state-owned companies and compared them with industries and private companies. From the group of state-owned companies, 49 firms launched a new or substantially improved product or process between 2006 and 2008 (op. cit).

In the case of the university, finally, the supporters of teaching innovationism and entrepreneurship reduce, elide or suppress 30 years of experiences of extension policies with communities, social movements and forces from the world of work and popular culture conducted by the university.

This behavior was identified as part of the three vices of innovationists: emulation by imitation (reproducing idealizations of successful external experiences), nihilism (disdain for the previous accumulation of policies, experiences and accumulations that were discarded as inconvenient) and a-historicism (break with a past negative, erroneous that should be ignored(9).

In addition to these aspects, there is another more serious one: the low absorption of masters and doctors to work with R&D in companies, as one would expect to happen over the last decade and a half.

Between 2006 and 2008, while Brazil trained almost 30 masters and doctors a year in the areas of technology and physical sciences (which supporters of those approaches present as being the professionals demanded by companies), the number of those who produce R&D increased in three years by only about from 1,5% – more precisely from 4.330 to 4.398 professionals(10).

This scenario represents an annual absorption rate of 0,07% (68/90.000), whereas, in the United States, 80% of graduates graduated each year go to the company to produce R&D (a thousand times higher rate). According to Pintec data (IBGE, 2005 and 2008), while 5,6% of companies carried out internal R&D activities in 2005, this proportion dropped to 4,2% in 2008.

Total spending on innovation activities by manufacturing industries, which were 2,8% of revenues in 2005, dropped to 2,6% in 2008, while the share of spending specifically earmarked for intramural R&D stood at 0,6% of revenue in 2008.

The proportion of companies dedicated to R&D activities fell from 3,9% to 3,4% of small companies, from 16,2% to 7,9% of medium companies and from 44,9% to 36,3. 2005% of large companies between 2008 and XNUMX.

At the turn of the 2010s, current data (2017) indicate that just over a third of companies in Brazil made efforts in innovation between 2012 and 2014, according to the IBGE Innovation Survey, the 2014 Pintec.

Among the 132.529 companies participating in the survey – which aims to map the state of innovation in Brazil on a comparable basis with other countries –, 36% made some kind of effort to innovate in products or processes.

This percentage, called the general rate of technological innovation in the period, remained practically stable compared to the previous three years (35,7%), but was still below that observed between 2006 and 2008 (38%). Pintec's 2014 innovation rate reproduces the current crisis scenario from 2008 onwards (cf. INOVA, 2017).

It is also necessary to expose a myth regarding the mobilization of R&D potential for society that would take place through the efforts of entrepreneurs in private companies (domestic or foreign) to generate cheaper products and, therefore, more benefits for society.

Five Brazilian industrial sectors with greater foreign participation were observed, it was found that the technological efforts of the branches were 70% smaller than those of their headquarters in the pharmaceutical segment, 10% in machinery and equipment, 60% in electronic materials and equipment , 31% in medical, optical and precision instruments and 62,5% in motor vehicles and auto parts. (IBGE/PINTEC, 2003, 2005, 2008).

As the process of differentiation and creation of new products is based, on the demand side, on the adoption of consumption habits in countries with advanced capitalism, Brazilian companies (foreign and domestic) use, as verified by Pintec, technologies transferred from abroad to produce them.

In this case, the innovation so publicized consists only in producing internally the good that is already manufactured in advanced capitalist countries. Contrary to what was assumed in relation to advanced capitalist countries, the Brazilian university is not dysfunctional because it does not train researchers and engineers who can produce the innovations needed by companies.

The university is dysfunctional because most Brazilian companies remain branches of foreign firms, which have their own investment programs. Thus, the influence of such companies in the production of S&T in Brazil has been very low.

According to MCT data, between 2000 and 2009, the state and federal governments were responsible for an average of 53% of the total expenditure on S&T in Brazil. Innovative companies (which carried out some R&D activity during this period) were responsible for 47% of the total (IBGE/PINTEC, 2003, 2005, 2008).

If we could separate spending by private and state-owned companies on R&D, public spending would be even greater. The Pintec surveys for 2003, 2005 and 2008 indicate that, between 2000 and 2008, 50% of business expenditure on R&D was invested in the acquisition of machinery and equipment. That is, of those 47%, only 23,5% were spent by innovative companies on activities that, in some way, required the university.

Thus, of the 100% of expenditure on S&T in Brazil (including government and business expenditure) on activities that, in some way, would require the university, 70% is from government origin and 30% from business (public and private).

Between 2003 and 2006, Finep invested approximately R$600 million in projects aimed at promoting cooperation between R&D institutions and companies. The counterpart of the companies was around R$ 200 million. That is, for every R$3 invested by Finep, companies invested R$1.

Innovationism as a form of imposition or technological determinism

Innovationism is a form of imposition or technological determinism, as it assumes that technical development only provides an efficient solution to a given problem and that social factors are only marginal in the technical sphere, deciding only the speed of development or the priority given to different types of technology. problems(11).

Bearing in mind the varied and nuanced universe of types of economy and companies, forms and types of transaction in the most diverse markets, including the circuits of the formal economy and the economy of the popular sectors, it seems rash to adopt a single innovationist recipe in Brazil (The reasons for the inadequacy of this approach will be further discussed throughout the next installments of this series).

This excessively standardized focus is one of the main, if not the greatest, enemies of technological projects imposed on society, because in the absence of legitimacy that justifies their execution in the face of notorious adverse and negative effects of similar projects, innovationism is called for. The political values ​​that underlie innovationism can be described as geared towards some goals, including:

a) dissemination of symbolic value in the belief in complex technological systems (hydroelectricity system, urban circulation and the automobile complex, production of oil and derivatives, etc.) as supposedly superior in the ability to generate solutions for society according to closed decision-making positions that benefit systems technologies already consolidated (In this case, the State is led to apply resources to them for their strengthening, and by doing so, it becomes impossible for the State to promote innovations on the “demand side”, that is, induced or fostered in a direction that interests to Society; for this, the government's purchasing power is applied in S&T policy; cf. BRASIL/ IPEA, 2017).

b) dissemination of cognitive or mental models as a systematic object of political protection in parliamentary and executive powers at all levels of government;

c) attempt to guarantee legal and institutional mechanisms in general, has nothing to do with science and technology policy, but with protection to the entry of new competitors in the real economy, in areas that stabilized the current use of product characteristics and technological processes;

d) seeking to reproduce the belief that patent policies are favorable for the country, and discredit that the creation of barriers to protect the production of similar products or local content in Brazil is a threat to innovation;

e) attempts to disqualify the debate, deny the analysis of alternatives, or limit the scope of projects, with the insertion of other values ​​and sociotechnical processes that are derogated in the face of the overwhelming influence of a decision-making power monopolized by a few actors.

These dimensions of innovationism have been associated with another broader trend of turning public institutions, especially the university, into a social organization (managed as private entities with the functions of providing public services).

Innovationism designs for the university the project of transforming it into a social organization (SO) for other reasons, because the innovationist model tends to assimilate the horizon of the historical project of the Brazilian university to a single aspect – the neoliberal one.

In this regard, S&T policies with the generation of regional and national knowledge, capable of taking into account the peculiarities of local knowledge and its ethnic, cultural and gender origins under a complex outline of social classes in Brazil, have no place.

In order to meet the private objectives of a S&T policy (PCT) unilaterally and exclusively oriented towards the provision of experts and techno-scientific research on demand (with their intellectual property rights and patents) – but above all with hearts and minds mobilized to make the university an OS.

This type of solution has been defended as the ideal solution for the management model, on the grounds that it is the only way to generate own funding for the supposed autonomy of the university.

As already mentioned, this is the mistake of trying to promote private funding for public university research and development.

Our peers at universities, in S&T policy-making institutions, in scientific associations have thus insisted on a linear model of Science and Technology (S&T) in which the doctrinal postulate is that a lot of money is spent on research and ideally something good will come of it. get out of it (doctrine of science-push).

This would happen by expanding the sources of private funding through, for example, the payment by the private sector of royalties for patents and intellectual property rights generated by researchers (not only).

It should be noted that the participation of this type of income has not been sufficient among the largest universities in Brazil (USP, UNICAMP, UFRJ, UFRGS, UnB) for its maintenance.

Defending this solution is a matter of time before it is revealed that there is either bad faith or ignorance of the historical experiences of other developed countries (not even the largest US public universities can survive without state subsidy, given that resources from private sources are insufficient to maintain their structures).

The discourse of innovationist entrepreneurship, however, intends to manage the university as an OS to remedy this risk; as if this supposedly facilitated the assimilation strategy of university researchers, and not least of better efficiency and effectiveness in the application of invested public resources.

Let's look at the alternative framework for research & development, in order to maintain the integrity of the university as it effectively is – a social institution whose scope and relevance are linked to the life of society as a whole in which economically excluded and included have a place in the sun.

Demand side science and technology promotion policies

“The State (…) can calculate its actions and harness the enormous energy that comes from its own nature. The fine-tuning of decisions is what matters. Public demand for pens, planes, syringes or cleaning services, associated with legal and infra-legal regulations applied to citizens and companies, does not exist for the State to maximize profit, but rather for it to guarantee the general well-being of the population . Why not go beyond the obvious and use these same instruments in a joint and coordinated way to signal which direction, in terms of technologies and behaviors, is socially preferable? Why shouldn't public procurement consider elements other than the obvious market price? Why is regulation not used in a way that considers consequences other than its most immediate actions? Or, finally, why not use the State's administrative routine so that it fulfills its social function in a more intelligent and conscious way? ”.(12)

This thesis that we recover here has been discussed and partially put into practice for decades, by European countries and by S&T policies in the USA.

But in Brazil there is a distortion effect, given the character of the Brazilian university under a dominant economy of dependent capitalism. It is dominated by the crude game of markets that, associated with international patent policy, imposes the logic of subjecting the country to commercial and industrial solutions defined by large capital blocks led by transnational companies, corporations, and international banks.

The alternative scenario exists and has been tried as a S&T policy aimed at generating public purchases and the regulation of economic activity, which together confer great power to transform the economy through “innovation policies that act on the demand side (which) are implemented by a myriad of different instruments (…),” (op. cit. chap. 1:24).

The table below gives a magnitude of this purchasing power of the Brazilian State:

TABLE 1Public purchases in Brazil, in billions of reais and percentage of GDP (2006-2012). Source: BRAZIL, IPEA, 2017

The data in the Table above indicate that purchasing power was equivalent to 14,5% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in Brazil in 2012! To correlate this dimension with the university and S&T policy, research and diagnoses for a demand-oriented S&T policy, this approach works with an expanded concept of innovation policy.

According to a recent detailed study by a group of economists and political analysts at IPEA, it is a matter of adopting this path because it has a central advantage, which is to reduce the gap, which is currently huge, between innovation policy and companies' technological policies. :

“(…) well, if the innovative process is characterized by uncertainty, complexity and dependence on the past (…) then, it makes no sense to draw rigid limits between what is a technological policy and what is a policy aimed at the introduction of new technologies. ideas and concepts on the market (innovation policy stricto sensu) ”(op. cit. IPEA 2017:22).

A demand-side technological innovation policy operates as an orchestration of a set of public interventions that influence, even if indirectly, the demand for innovations in different markets. Such a perspective broadens the notion of

“(…) innovation policy”, which cannot be confused with a linear view of the innovative process, according to which “(…) technological development or scientific research are the sole sources of innovation. Despite the fact that such sources are fundamental for the most disruptive innovations, there is a range of other extremely relevant sources for the introduction of new products and/or processes in the economy” ( 2017: 22).

According to IPEA analysts, if it is a fact that technological leading countries “reveal a strong scientific base in which the interactions between different agents of their innovation systems make the emergence of innovations fluid and robust, this process only has technological convergence through its articulation with a old and already consolidated efficient use of mature and known technologies” ( 2017:22, emphasis added).

Taking this into account, there are productivity gains to be achieved mainly in peripheral countries; gains, which are not associated with the development of frontier technologies.

Rather, it is about other ways of conducting innovations that refer to the role of the university (and the education approaches referenced in this series) in the sense that

“(…) in peripheral countries, such as Brazil, the factory floor of micro, small, medium and even large manufacturing plants can be completely changed, for example, with the use of quality management techniques, changes in layouts and introduction of new machinery without the need for a robust Research and Development (R&D) effort in which science has predominance” ( 2017: 25).

We will see in the next issue precisely this dimension or meaning of the relations between university, government and companies.

* Richard Neder He is a sociologist and political economist, professor at UnB and editor-in-chief of the Revista Ciência e Tecnologia Social.

*Raquel Moraes is a professor of education and technology at UnB.


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[1] See analysis by Renato Dagnino in “Cognitive models of university-company interaction policies”. CONVERGENCE, Mexico: 14:95-110. 2007. [ Links ]

[2] Renato Dagnino Hernan Thomas (org). UNIVERSITY RESEARCH IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE UNIVERSITY-COMPANY LINK. Chapecó/SC-Unicamp/Argos. 2011:69.

[3]  This legislation amended a set of previous laws related to science and technology and innovation policy into a single law (nº 13.243, of January 11, 2016.

[4] On the foundations of innovationist doctrine at the university, see: Renato Dagnino – “The university-company relationship in Brazil and the 'Triple Helix argument'”. BRAZILIAN MAGAZINE OF INNOVATION, 2(2):267-307. 2003. [Links]. ___ “S&T at the local level: a proposal from the left”. ESPÁCIOS MAGAZINE, Venezuela, 25(3):39-61. 2004 [Links]. ____(2007) SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN BRAZIL - THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS AND THE RESEARCH COMMUNITY. Campinas/SP: Ed. Unicamp.2007. ___The anomaly of science and technology policy BRAZILIAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL SCIENCES. Vol. 29 No. 86 October/2014 (46-55). MBOLIVERY. “The innovationism in question”. SCIENTIAE STUDIA, vol. 9, No. 3. 2011.

[5] See Renato Dagnino (2003), “The university-company relationship in Brazil and the 'Triple Helix argument'”. BRAZILIAN MAGAZINE OF INNOVATION, 2(2):267-307.[Links] ____”S&T at the local level: a proposal from the left”. ESPÁCIOS MAGAZINE, Venezuela, 25(3):39-61. 2004.[ Links ]; ____(2007A) SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN BRAZIL - THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS AND THE RESEARCH COMMUNITY. Campinas/SP: Ed. Unicamp. 2007A; ____(2007B), “Cognitive models of university-enterprise interaction policies”. CONVERGENCE, Mexico, 14:95-110. 2007B [ Links ]. On national innovation systems, see JE Cassiolato and G.Zucoloto “Globalization of research and development activities and its impacts in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa”. PROCEEDINGS OF THE XI NATIONAL MEETING OF POLITICAL ECONOMY, Victory. 2006 . EB Viotti, EB 'Doctors: studies of the demography of the Brazilian technical-scientific base', In: EB Viotti (org.) DOCTORS: DEMOGRAPHY STUDIES OF THE BRAZILIAN TECHNICAL-SCIENTIFIC BASE. Brasilia: Center for Management and Strategic Studies, CGEE. 2010. About the painting in the capitalist center: AU Ruiz. (2005), “Patents and university public function in Europe: myths and realities”. BRAZILIAN JOURNAL OF INNOVATION. Rio de Janeiro, 4(2):391-423. [Links]. On the Brazilian scene: Dannyela Lemos and Silvio A.Ferraz Cário. The Evolution of Science and Technology Policies in Brazil and the Incorporation of Innovation. Federal University of Santa Catarina. Anais Internacional Conference LALICS 2013 “NATIONAL INNOVATION SYSTEMS AND STI POLICIES FOR INCLUSIVE AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT”. November 11 and 12, 2013. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

[6]  On transduction, see Renato Dagnino, and Hernan Thomas (ed.) UNIVERSITY RESEARCH IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE UNIVERSITY-COMPANY LINK. Chapeco/SC: Argos. 2011

[7]  See document published by Ivanil Elisário Barbosa. S&T FORUM. Diagnosis of the S&T careers workforce. October 2017, in which he analyzes the quantitative and loss profile of technoscientific careers in Brazil after the 2016 Coup.

[8] See Janiana Simões. (2011) Federal public companies innovate more than private ones. 31.5.2011 - INNOVA UNICAMP. 7/2017.


[10] See historical series: BRASIL IBGE (2014) Industrial Technological Innovation Survey (Pintec). Brasilia, IBGE. Brasilia. IBGE. (2008), Industrial Research of Technological Innovation (Pintec). Brasilia, IBGE. (2005), Industrial Research of Technological Innovation (Pintec). Brasilia, IBGE. (2003), Industrial Research of Technological Innovation (Pintec). Brasilia, IBGE. Cf. also in C. Bagattolli (2008), Scientific and technological policy and the innovative dynamics in Brazil. Campinas, Master's Dissertation, Institute of Geosciences, Unicamp.

[11] Regarding the topic v. Renato Dagnino (2008) NEUTRALITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMINISM. Campinas, sp. Ed UNICAMP.

[12] See study about IPEA – DEMAND-SIDE INNOVATION POLICIES IN BRAZIL / organizer André Tortato Rauen. Brasília: Ipea, 2017. 481 p. ISBN: 978-85-7811-301-8. Access:

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