ANCLAS’s Zuleika Arashiro writes:
On 20-21 March, the University of Melbourne and the Australian Embassy in Brazil, together with the Universidade de Sao Paulo (USP), held the first Brazil-Australia Dialogue in Sao Paulo. The Dialogue occurred a few months after Brazilian president Dilma Roussef and Prime Minister Julia Gillard signed the Brazil-Australia Strategic Partnership in June 2012. While there are undoubtedly challenges ahead to translate those official statements into concrete collaboration, the Dialogue marked the first concrete step towards a better mutual understanding of the two countries and, particularly, for research and policy collaboration.
With the financial support from the Australian Government’s Council on Australian Latin American Relations (COALAR), the Dialogue brought together high-level government representatives, business leaders and academics from Brazil and Australia for an intensive discussion day in which the main common theme driving various panel sessions was the challenge of conciliating economic growth with sustainability.
But what made the Dialogue a unique event was that it went beyond the usual gatherings for exchange of ideas to mark a formal commitment to build research collaboration between the two countries. The University of Melbourne signed Australia’s first agreement with the State of Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), the leading research funding body in Sao Paulo (see the agreement text here). Through this agreement, the two institutions committed to an initial 5-year collaboration under which each side will contribute up to $ 100,000/year each to promote joint research projects and exchange. At the same occasion, the University of Melbourne also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Universidade de Sao Paulo. With around 100,000 students, USP is the leading academic institution in Latin America and responds for the largest share of academic publications in the region.
This initiative captures well the still unexplored potential for engaging with Brazil as an equal partner. With the focus of the Brazilian Government on the internationalisation of its tertiary education and development of sciences and technology, there is now a large amount of government-funded scholarships for students and scholars, from undergraduate to postgraduate training, and academic international exchange. In addition to the most well-known program ‘Sciences without Borders’, which covers mainly scientific areas, institutions such as CAPES at the federal level, and FAPESP, at the state level in Sao Paulo, have been keen to promote research collaboration with funding reaching social sciences, applied research and policy issues.
One noticeable gap in the Dialogue was the lack of attention to social and political understanding between the two countries. Since much of the discussions passed through policy making, this was a critical gap. Still, the fact that there is a small window of opportunity open means that these areas too can come to the agenda. The question now is to know whether we are ready for a new level of partnership.