09 April 2014, Bogota — Several developing nations have mooted the idea of funding public research with a tax on or royalties from natural resources, such as oil, but only a few appear to have made good on their promise.
Similarly, in Uganda, where the president announced in 2010 that he wanted to use newly found oil to fund science, the oil revenues are still to start trickling in.
And across the Atlantic, Brazil’s scientists launched a campaign in 2011 for revenues from some of the nation’s newly discovered oil to be used to fund research – they did not succeed.
Yet over the past seven years, revenues from Brazil’s older oil fields have provided nearly half the money in the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development. But following a change in law, from this year, these oil revenues will go to education and health instead, cutting funding from research projects.
Now, says Helena Nader, president of the Brazilian Association for the Advancement of Science, “the fund is going to receive zero from oil”.
Nader tells SciDev.Net that the government is taking the “wrong pathway” by trying to solve current social problems, but forgetting to plan for 30 years from now. She says this is “dangerous”.
She is leading a campaign involving more than 100 science societies that aims to convince national politicians to retain ten per cent of the oil revenues for science and technology research.
“I am fighting to reform the law,” says Nader.
The Colombian example
In neighbouring Colombia, which approved a law in 2011 stating that ten per cent of mining and oil royalties would be invested in science, technology and innovation (ST&I) research, the funding has gone ahead, but there have been problems.
In total, 580 project proposals have been initially accepted by the Colombian Department for ST&I, which administers the fund, but only just over 200 have been approved by a new body, composed of academics and representatives from regional and central government, called Governing Bodies and Decision Manangement (OCAD). It makes decisions partly based on regional development needs.