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Address by José Goldemberg at the Inauguration of USP’s New President

by Richard Meckien - published Feb 10, 2014 05:40 PM - - last modified Feb 10, 2014 05:42 PM
Rights: Carlos Malferrari (translator)

Mr. governor, Mr. president, colleagues, friends:

University of São Paulo: 80 years

Birthdays are often occasions for us to review the foregone year. The eightieth anniversary of the University of São Paulo, with even more reason, calls for a deep reflection of what has happened over its 80 years.

This anniversary is even more special because the new president of the university was inducted today and such investiture only coincides with a decennary anniversary of the creation of USP every 20 years. We will only have another similar opportunity in 2034, on the hundredth anniversary of the founding of USP.

After 80 years, the question to ask is whether the University of São Paulo achieved the objectives for which it was created. Where did we go right and where they we go astray? In other words, what is there to celebrate?

What the founders of the university had in mind can be found in Article 2 of Decree 6,283 of January 25, 1934:

  • To promote, through research, the progress of science;
  • To convey, through teaching, knowledge that enriches or develops the spirit or is useful to life;
  • To train specialists in all branches of culture, and technicians and professional personnel in all professions that require a scientific or artistic background;
  • To accomplish the social work of popularizing science, literature and the arts through synthetic courses, conferences, lectures, radio broadcasting, scientific films and the like.


The decree brought together under the same administrative framework several existing institutions of higher education and a new School of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters, a “bond of scientific-cultural rapport,” in the words of Ernesto de Souza Campos. Actually, this rapport has been a long time coming and only became a reality with the university reform of 1970 that created the basic institutes.

The decree also provided for the establishment of a regime of full-time dedication and financial autonomy. The latter only materialized in 1988, with the allocation of a fixed percentage of the ICMS tax [a VAT-like excise] to state universities.

With regard to education and promoting research, there is no doubt that USP was a success. More than 300,000 students have graduated so far, who occupied and occupy prominent positions in every area of society, from engineering firms to banks and the government. The University of São Paulo has also granted nearly 45,000 doctoral degrees and these alumni are an important part of the faculty of other institutions of higher education in the state and in the country. Each year, USP scholars publish approximately 10,000 articles in scientific journals. The fact it does not a Nobel winner among its researchers is only a matter of time and opportunity. Several USP scholars have received other, very significant awards, and the fact that Maurício da Rocha e Silva, in medicine, or Cesar Lattes, in physics, have not received a Nobel Prize is patently unjust.

There are, worldwide, about 10,000 universities and USP is among the top 200, i.e., among the 2% that also includes the great British and American universities. It is the best university in Latin America and one of the 11 best universities in developing countries. Yet it can, and must, improve by stimulating excellence in all areas. Its performance standards and its scientific and cultural excellence influence other Brazilian universities.

However, it has not managed to adequately improve secondary education, as desired by Fernando de Azevedo, Júlio Mesquita Filho and the Brazilian Education Association, and many others who fought for the creation of USP. To be sure, this is more a problem of secondary education in general than of the University of São Paulo, which it cannot solve by itself but to which, in my view, it can certainly contribute more than it has in the past.

Despite educating specialists in every area, USP’s efforts have not reflected in innovations and productivity gains in industry, as would be desirable and happened in other European countries and the United States. The research activities of the University of São Paulo have always had a strong cultural component. This is an ongoing effort, in which FAPESP is also engaged, but which, in my view, requires the adoption of macroeconomic policies to encourage the modernization of Brazilian industry. The Commission that the president appointed to coordinate the activities marking the 80th anniversary of the University of São Paulo will address these problems by promoting a lively debate, with foreign guests as well, that will encourage us to strive to solve them.