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Centers of Excellence in PeD in Brazil

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Brazil Centers of Excellence

Centers of Excellence
Scientist Jacques Marcovitch conducted a detailed 1992 study, entitled Centers of Excellence in PeD in Brazil , on a small group of high-quality research centers in an attempt to identify the reasons for their success. They were Petrobrás's Cenpes, in Rio de Janeiro; the Institute of Mechanical Engineering of the Federal University of Santa Catarina, in Florianópolis; the Heart Institute (Instituto do Coração) at USP; the Butantan Institute, belonging to São Paulo State's SCTDE; IMPA (Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics), associated with the CNPq, in Rio de Janeiro; the research center of Light Metal, Inc. (Metal Leve S.A.), a leading Brazilian manufacturer of car and airplane components; the research center of Rhodia-Poulenc, a French chemical industrial group, in Paulínia, São Paulo; and the soybean research program at the Federal University of Viçosa, Minas Gerais.

Despite their different contexts and purposes, all these centers of excellence--government institutes, university research centers, and research and development units in private and public corporations--shared a common set of features. First, they benefited from their external environment, including the availability of financial support, different types of incentives, market niches, or well-identified local opportunities. A well-established and competent leadership identified these opportunities and put them to proper use. Second, they made world-class contributions in their fields of knowledge. This was true even for IMPA, which works in the most abstract fields of mathematics but still has an important impact on the teaching of mathematics at all levels in Brazilian education. Third, the leaderships of these centers shared an entrepreneurial spirit. The most outstanding researchers or institution-builders all shared the ability to identify successful goals for their institution, to garner resources, and to identify talent. Fourth, the leaders of these institutions had an ability to find a proper organizational model. According to Marcovitch, these entrepreneurs found innovative mechanisms that freed them from bureaucratic labyrinths, and they adopted institutional frameworks that supported the achievement of their goals. Constant organizational adaptations, specialized, task-oriented units, efficient decision making, and consensus among the leaders and the researchers were key features of success.

These conditions of success also help to explain why the centers of excellence are the exception rather than the rule among Brazilian research institutions. Most research centers in universities and government institutions follow civil service rules, which favor fixed procedures and conformity rather than entrepreneurship and managerial flexibility. Protected until recently by strong trade barriers or state monopolies, Brazilian companies did not make efficiency and innovation their priorities, and either did not invest in research and development or did not use products derived from their research and development units. If Brazilian science is to play a significant role in the country's future, Brazil's institutions need an environment of entrepreneurship, quality, and institutional flexibility that is typical of its centers of excellence. Only then can these centers become the rule rather than the exception.

Data as of April 1997




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