From the Bridge to the Future to the Future itself: Science loses its ministry

Image Elyeser Szturm

By Otaviano Helene*

Immediately after Vice President Michel Temer took over the Presidency of the Republic on an interim basis, in March 2016, a change was made to the ministerial structure, with the extinction of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation[I] and the creation of a new ministry, which would combine its activities with those of the Ministry of Communications.

In this new ministry, CNPq and other agencies were demoted to a lower level than they occupied in the old MCTI. There could be no doubt, therefore, as to the (lack of) priority given to research activities in the incoming government. In this new model, the CNPq was doubly demoted: first, because the ministry to which it belonged disappeared and the new one began to accumulate other activities; secondly, because he was again demoted in this new ministerial design.

These facts were already enough to clarify the project of that government. If anyone still had any doubts, consult the document “A bridge to the future”, from October 2015, by the MDB (at the time, PMDB), the party of the then vice-president, sanaria.

Half of the items listed in that document concerned, directly or indirectly, the reduction of the public sector and, therefore, of the activities to which it is dedicated, education and science included. In addition, the document included the forecast of new pressure mechanisms on workers, including wages, changes in the social security system, with a reduction in pensions, retirements and other benefits, transfer of assets and resources to the private sector, among other things that negatively affected the majority of the population.

The consequences of those changes in ministries, as well as the proposals summarized in the document that founded the government that took office, were minimized by the academic community, perhaps intoxicated by propaganda. Very few scientific entities and representatives of professors and researchers expressed their dissatisfaction, or, at least, their concern.

Education is also downgraded

Education was also part of the project, and not only when that “Bridge” criticized the end of the minimum investment in the sector (measured as a percentage of tax collection, provided for in the Constitution). In September 2016, Provisional Measure 746, dubbed the “High School MP”, following the same guidelines, made profound changes to the LDB[ii]. In February 2017, the MP was already converted into law. Again and perhaps for the same intoxicating effect, there were very few critical manifestations and many omissions from universities and representative entities of the country's academic community.

A mistake or a deception?

The bridge towards the commodification of education continued to be built, now using a false argument to justify the reduction of budgets to the sector. Let's see which one.

In the US, the vast majority of higher education students (about 75%) are in public institutions[iii]. Of the other students, the vast majority attend large or medium-sized private institutions. These institutions either do not have endowment funds (endowments)[iv] or they have them in a very small quantity, whose income has no meaning in their costing.

Only a tiny fraction of higher education students in that country, far less than 1% of the total, attend private institutions whose endowments are really large, in some cases over a million dollars per enrolled student, and whose income contributes to the institution's budget in a not insignificant way.

However, in September 2018, a provisional measure, converted into law in January 2019 (law 13.800), proposed, for Brazilian public universities, the creation of endowment funds, since, according to its justification[v], the “funding of public institutions has faced difficulties in recent years”[vi].

The justification continued, stating that “international experience shows that endowment funds represent an important source of revenue for public institutions”, citing, next, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and Yale, none of them public! Such a justification, coming out of the government palace, reveals either ignorance, or bad faith, or bets on the ignorance of others on the part of the person who wrote it. Possibly all of these together. How to propose to public universities in Brazil, a developing country, practices that do not even exist in public universities in the USA, a rich country, and only in some of its small private universities?

In 2019

With the result of the 2018 election, attacks on the public sector intensified, as the few barriers that could hold them back were weakened. These attacks included the disqualification of the entire public education and research system, especially universities. Finally, the bridge was completed and now led to a huge avenue. Some examples are sad and regrettable.

An education minister suggested that students and teachers should say their prayers and declare "God above all" before classes[vii], demonstrating a total disregard for education, students and teachers. The fact that such a person remained in office until his task was completed shows how fragile education is in our country.

Brazilian public universities facilitate and promote, in multiple ways, the installation of junior companies within them, develop entrepreneurship programs, support startups, offer courses in marketing, advertising and marketing. There is no doubt about the ideological, economic and cultural bias of these programs and activities. Despite this, public universities are accused of having a Marxist bias! And, even worse, people believe!

It is not the case to cite many examples, but there is one that cannot be forgotten, as it reveals the level of ignorance of the government and its minister about what a study and work environment is, The second occupant of the chair of education minister it has nothing to do with the previous one. People who live in public universities know that during the whole day, including the night period, the classrooms are occupied by students and professors.

In libraries and study rooms, there are groups studying, working and doing exercises. The didactic and research laboratories are active. Seminars and conferences take place all the time, with the participation of students, professors and researchers. Because of all this, the public university is, by far, the best place for a young person to be. No other place offers young people more and better opportunities for a productive and interesting life than universities, while training professionals who will act for the benefit of society as a whole. Nowhere else with the same amount of people in the same age group as college students is the environment as healthy. Despite this, the university environment is accused of being exactly what it is not, a shambles – and there are those who believe it.

CNPq, Capes and MEC

The country is moving rapidly towards limitless liberalism. Everything must be business, merchandise. To facilitate such a project, activities of collective interest are dismantled, making room for the private sector; public education is attacked and disqualified; the SUS is under attack; constitutional amendment 95 (the spending cap, dated december 2016) prohibits the government from spending, even if there is a need and resources are available.

Pay-as-you-go pension plans are being dismantled, increasing the space explored by the funded pension fund market system. Everyone who buys the education, health, retirement, pensions and insurance they can. As knowledge is also bought, including in the international market, why shouldn't science, technology and culture be included in this?

In fact, they are. Figure 1 shows CNPq's annual budget, updated to 2019 values ​​by INPC[viii], over a period of just over 20 years. The drop in the last five years is quite remarkable, and in 2018 it was about half of its value five years earlier.

It is worth noting that over the period shown in the figure, the CNPq budget presented some variations that deserve to be interpreted. Between approximately 1995 and 2000 there was a reduction of about 25% in the actual value of its budget. This reduction reflects both the country's economic situation at the time and the strong neoliberal context at the time: why develop scientific and technological knowledge if it can be bought?

It is also worth remembering a fact that has been little considered. Between 1996 and 2016, the number of doctors working in Brazil increased by a factor close to two and a half times. This caused the amount of resources made available by CNPq, per doctor, to be reduced, over two decades, to less than a third. The most well-established groups and laboratories managed, with great difficulty, either to maintain their activities or lose little, with few of them managing to expand. But the groups installed in institutions with less tradition in research could not fully use their work capacity, which increased, in the period in the same proportion as the increase in the number of doctors in activity, due to lack of financial resources.

Figure 1 – CNPq annual budget, billion reais at 2019 values

It is worth noting that the real growth of the CNPq budget in the period between the mid-2000s and 2015 was very close to the GDP growth in the same period, both in the order of 60 to 70%, depending on the deflator used and the exact years considered. This growth surpassed the drop that occurred in the second half of the 1990s, causing the CNPq budget to reach its highest historical mark. However, as already mentioned, the growth did not follow the increase in the work capacity that occurred in the country in the areas of research and development.

Some characteristics of Capes' budgetary reality are similar to those of CNPq. However, others deserve further analysis. Figure 2 shows the Capes budget since 1996, updated for 2019 by the INPC. As in the case of the CNPq, there was a decrease in the last half of the 1990s of around 25% in real terms. Also as in the case of CNPq, there has been a huge drop in recent years, however quantitatively greater: in 2018 Capes' annual budget was less than half of what it had been in 2015, losing about 6 billion reais in the period.

Figure 2 – Capes annual budget, billions of reais at 2019 values

Capes' budget, however, grew sixfold between 2004 and 2015, much greater than that of CNPq. It is possible to analyze this increase from an examination of the budget of the MEC, the ministry of which it is a part, in the same period (figure 3).

Figure 3 - MEC's ​​annual budget, billions of reais at 2019 values

Between the mid-2000s and 2015, approximately, the MEC budget tripled in real terms. Part of this growth was due to economic growth, those 60 or 70% mentioned. Another very important factor was the gradual reduction in the incidence of the decoupling of union revenues in education resources from 2008, which was zeroed in 2011. The increase in MEC resources, of around 100 billion reais in a period between 10 and 15 years, allowed that very large increase in Capes resources, without compromising the budget of federal universities, which approximately doubled in the same period.

The Future has arrived

The so-called “Future-se” project, according to data released by the MEC, will imply or would imply the reallocation of a huge volume of resources, which could reach many tens of billions of reais, evidently coming out of that ministry's own budget. A project of this size should be preceded by detailed studies, with estimates of their consequences. Such studies should, of course, have the broad participation of affected institutions. With these studies done, it would be necessary to prove that the gains outweigh the losses.

But none of that happened. Everything that was presented to defend the project corresponds to a series of advertisements, with preconceived and false ideas, illusions and catchphrases.

There are many negative aspects of the project. Among them are the flexibility of the recognition of diplomas obtained abroad, the sale of services by university hospitals, moving them away from the SUS, and the allocation of public resources to the private sector.

It is notable that the private business sector, as well as the universities, were not consulted either. Despite the countless statements made by the defenders of “Future-se” about the advantages of the project for the development of companies in the country, there was no manifestation in its defense coming from this sector. In fact, a criticism already pointed out to the project, and not answered by the government, is exactly the lack of new legal instruments to achieve the objectives that the project claims to achieve, which would explain the lack of interest of Brazilian companies, laying bare the intentions of the “Future yourself”.

Combined with the cuts in development agencies, such as Capes and CNPq, “Future-se” looks more like a way to make the budget bottleneck of federal institutions of higher education lead them to accept a project that will transfer part of their resources to private companies and Social Organizations (OSs), which will have an active voice in their decisions, compromising university autonomy.

This combination will cause those institutions to lose resources, professors to be under pressure, including salary pressure, scientific, cultural and academic production and technological developments will become private property and decisions, which should only be academic and in the interest of Brazilian society, would come to be influenced by personal and private interests, compromising the academic autonomy of universities. And, evidently, there will be no resources coming from the private sector that do not correspond only to a business, where it wins and the university loses.

Together with the current government's conservative guidelines, its educational, scientific, technological and cultural policies will compromise the country's future, whether in terms of its autonomy and sovereignty vis-à-vis other countries, or in terms of its social development, without offering anything in return in the economic area. .

Such a large and rapid advance of obscurantism and extreme radicalized neoliberalism was perhaps possible because we did not act intensely enough and at the right time. It is necessary to break this inertia, increasing mobilization, both acting in our entities – scientific societies, professional associations, unions, student associations, etc. –, as well as in the collegiate bodies of our teaching and research institutions.

*Octavian Helene He is a senior professor at the Institute of Physics at USP, former president of Adusp Inep and author, among other books, of A Diagnosis of Brazilian Education and its Financing.


[I] The Ministry of Culture was also extinguished on the same date, being recreated, after harsh criticism, two months later. On January 2019, XNUMX, it was deactivated again.

[ii] Among other aspects, the alterations in the LDB created the possibility of teachers without a degree in secondary education and of agreements with private entities for the offer of classes, including distance classes, of curricular subjects.

[iii] The vast majority of scientific production in that country is also carried out by public institutions, whether university or not.

[iv] Equity fund is an amount of resources, in cash or goods, whose income is used for the maintenance, even partial, of an institution, but whose assets must be preserved.

[v] The MP and its justification can be consulted at this address,;jsessionid=5EFA906535E509746AA48ADD4DA179F4.proposicoesWebExterno2?codteor=1696057&filename=MPV+851/2018

[vi] A phrase more consistent with reality would be “in view of the financial difficulties we are imposing on universities and federal institutes”.

[vii] Perhaps, a minister of health who ordered patients and health workers to say the same before surgeries, consultations and examinations would immediately fall down and be referred either to a police station or to a mental health service.

[viii] A moving average was made every three years to prevent small irregularities from hindering the perception of the whole.

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