A major budget crisis at Brazil’s leading science funding agency could disrupt the lives of thousands of students and early-career scientists. In September, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) in Brasília could run out of money to continue to fund the grants and scholarships it provides to more than Brazilians.
On 15 August, the agency took to Twitter to announce the suspension of financial support for its recipients—a measure that many had feared since the government decided to slash CNPq’s scholarship budget by 21%, from 998 million reais ($249 million) in 2018 to 785 million reais ($196 million) this year. “We are taking the necessary measures to minimize the consequences of this restriction,” the statement reads. So far, however, CNPq has not clarified how many people will be affected next month, or how long the suspension of payments would last.
The budget issues at CNPq are only the latest in a long series of cuts to Brazil’s federal science budget. “But there was never a crisis like this,” says José Alexandre Diniz-Filho, an ecologist at the Federal University of Goiás in Goiânia.
CNPq’s administration had warned that this year’s budget would not be enough. To make it through 2019, the agency requested an additional 330 million reais, which Congress approved in June. But the Ministry of Economy hasn’t authorized the allocation of those funds so far; in an email to Science, a spokesperson said the ministry had yet to decide on CNPq’s request and does not have a deadline for doing so.
The troubles have alarmed Brazil’s scientific community. In late July, seven of CNPq’s former presidents circulated a manifesto urging the government to “make every effort to reverse this gloomy situation.” An online petition to allocate more funds to CNPq, supported by dozens of Brazilian research organizations, has already drawn more than signatures.
I can’t [see] a way to continue doing good science for Brazil inside Brazil. I just can’t.
CNPq scholarship holders are not allowed to receive other types of income, which means many students could be left without any means of sustenance, Diniz-Filho says. “It’s quite depressing,” he says. At a graduate program in ecology and evolution he coordinates, “We have all these mental health issues that are more and more frequent. The students are a bit lost.”
CNPq’s crisis could have a wider effect on the scientific community as well. “It affects everyone doing science in Brazil, regardless of our salary coming from CNPq or not,” says Lilianne Nakazono, a Ph.D. student in astronomy at the University of São Paulo in São Paulo, who collaborates in a big international project to survey the southern sky using a robotic telescope in Chile. “If we can’t have students and postdocs working with us, it is hard to get the project moving on,” says Nakazono, who herself receives funding from the São Paulo Research Foundation.
Luisa Diele-Viegas, an ecologist and postdoc at the Federal University of Bahia in Salvador says losing her CNPq scholarship would make it impossible to continue her research on how climate change and the loss of biodiversity influence human happiness. “I need to pay my bills,” she says. But she had already decided that, for now, her future is not in Brazil. Diele-Viegas has accepted a postdoctoral position at the University of Maryland in College Park starting in January 2020. “I love my country. It’s where I do my fieldwork, where I built all my life,” she says. “But I can’t [see] a way to continue doing good science for Brazil inside Brazil. I just can’t.”