BARBARA GOMES almost completed his doctorate in biomedicine at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), one of the best in Brazil. Jobs are scarce and the best she could find is a substitute teaching position at the university that pays around 4,000 reais ($ 760) per month. For her experiments on a protein associated with mad cow disease, however, she needs reagents that this university can’t always afford and that cost more than her salary. As a result, like many of her cohort, she wants to leave Brazil. Her plan to move to France was shaken up by the pandemic, but when she finishes her doctorate, she will go: “If I want to work in science, I have to leave the country. “
Brazilian emigration to OECD country has been on the rise for years, but took off especially in 2017, growing 24% over the previous year. Almost 30% of all Brazilians living in OECD countries have a university education. Over the past two years, permanent visa applications from Brazilian skilled workers to the United States, the main destination for people leaving Brazil, have increased by 30% to the highest level in at least a decade.
The exodus is mainly the result of the economic instability left by the recession of 2014-16. But this has been compounded by populist President Jair Bolsonaro, who views academics as enemies. Its guru, Olavo de Carvalho, has said that Brazilian universities are hives of drugs, orgies and communist propaganda. The budget of the federal science funding agency has halved since 2000, while the government invests money in sending members of the armed forces, often supporters of Mr. Bolsonaro, to study. abroad.
the UFRJ has enough money to keep its doors open only until September; after that, he may have to close labs and restrict some online courses. At least six professors who have criticized the president’s actions during the pandemic, which has so far killed more than 540,000 Brazilians, have been investigated by the government.
“Being in a country that has daily attacks on science is very disheartening,” says Ana Carneiro, a professor who studies the Brazilian diaspora at UNICAMP, a university in the State of São Paulo. But this is nothing new. During the dictatorship of 1964-85, for which Mr. Bolsonaro is nostalgic, academics were among the thousands of exiles. The military government had a slogan: “Brazil: love it or leave it.
After starting to scale back the bloated public pension system in 2019, Bolsonaro abandoned attempts at economic reforms necessary for a return to growth. The country was still struggling with recession when the pandemic hit. With only 17% of Brazilians fully vaccinated, economic normalcy still seems distant. Despite a generous public financial assistance program last year, poverty has tripled. GDP in the first quarter exceeded expectations, but Brazil still has to fight unemployment at 14.7%, a record. Half of the young people say they would leave if they could.
Not so long ago, Brazil offered young researchers a better outlook. Between 2003 and 2016, successive governments led by the Workers’ Party, led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, created 18 new universities (some stemming from satellite campuses of existing institutions). In 2015, Brazil overtook countries like Russia and Mexico in spending on science, technology and innovation.
Yet even when Brazil invested in education, there were problems. The Ciência Sem Fronteiras (“Science Without Borders”) program, inaugurated in 2011 by Mrs. Rousseff, then president, sent nearly 100,000 Brazilians to study in more than 30 countries for six years. But when they returned, there was no policy on what to do with them, Ms. Carneiro says. When the program was still running, a quarter of the fellows said they intended to pursue a career outside of Brazil.
By exporting scientists and their innovations, Brazil loses the opportunity to forge a technological weight at home. More than a quarter of GDP still comes from agriculture. The cuts in scholarships that began under Ms Rousseff’s successor, Michel Temer, worsened under Mr Bolsonaro. After Ms Rousseff’s disastrous management of the economy led to recession, new government-funded universities saw their budgets cut. The Federal University of Cariri in the poor northwestern state of Ceará was founded in 2013, but has lost more than 80% of its government research grants in the past four years.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently set up a program called Innovation Diplomacy to try to connect Brazilians abroad with the motherland, in order to boost trade and investment in their country. But its objectives are ill-defined. And many of those considering leaving are likely to stay away until the situation in Brazil improves. “I wish I didn’t have to go,” Ms. Gomes says. “But there is nothing here for me.” ■
This article appeared in the Americas section of the print edition under the title “Out the door”