Driven by the democratic opening in Brazil and by intellectuals engaged in shaping a new society, the Institute of Advanced Studies of the University of São Paulo was founded in 1986 with the following mission: “to research and to discuss–comprehensively—fundamental issues of science, technology, the arts and other areas of knowledge, stimulating the generation of new ideas and contributing to the analysis of social issues and the development of public policies". Since its foundation, the IEA-USP has provided the academic community and the general public with the opportunity to establish direct contact with the ideas of several Brazilian and foreign personalities from scientific, political and cultural areas. It has also produced essential proposals for the economic, social, political and cultural development of Brazil. The emphasis on the debate of interdisciplinary themes makes the IEA-USP able to act in the shaping of research and public policies guidances. The interdisciplinary projects developed at the IEA-USP are conducted either by research groups or visiting professors and researchers.
Due to the peculiarities of its objectives, the IEA-USP has an academic and administrative structure that differs from the usual standard adopted by most of the university institutions. The emphasis on the debate of interdisciplinary themes makes the IEA-USP able to act in the definition of research and public policy directives, but not in educating researchers or executing experimental projects. That is the reason why the IEA-USP does not offer undergraduation or graduation programs, does not have a permanent board of researchers and does not possess laboratories.
Many programs, projects and cycles carried out by the Institute stand out due to the relevance of their themes for the future of the country. Some exemples of activities that produced detailed analyses and recommendations for the improvement of public policies in numerous sectors: "Education for Citizenship" and "Constitutional Review", as well as the projects "Floram" (Forests for the Environment) and "Brazil in the Future – 2022", the forum "Capital-Labor" and the cycles "Dilemmas and Challenges in Higher Education", "Technology Innovation" and "Biomass Civilization". The IEA-USP also acts as a think-thank and incubator for future models of new institutes of higher education and even the academia itself. The creation of the International Relations Institute of the University of São Paulo (IRI-USP) in 2004 is one fruitful example. More recently the Intercontinental Academia has proven the interdisciplinary potential of working together not only amidst different disciplines but also globally, through a network of University Based Institutes for Advanced Study-UBIAS. Another project being developed is the Rainforest Continent Business School by the Amazon Transformation: History and Perspectives research group.
The programs, projects, areas and groups of the Institute have already received the collaboration of hundreds of participants, who have acted as visiting professors or researchers, lecturers or collaborators. Among those with greater international visibility are John Kenneth Galbraith, Noam Chomsky, Jürgen Habermas, Jacques Derrida, Christopher Hill, José Saramago, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Robert Darnton, Bernard Feld, Georges Charpak, Milton Santos, Ignacy Sachs, JeanChristophe Yoccoz, Newton da Costa, Enzo Faletto, Mario Molina, Edgar Morin, Oscar Sala, Peter Burke, Alan Sokal, Jean-Pierre Changeux, Robert Trivers, Stanislas Dehaene, Otto Gottlieb, Alain Touraine, Hans-Joaquim Köellreutter, John Casti, Miguel Nicolelis, Yochai Benkler, Werner Arber, Jacob Palis, Renato Janine Ribeiro, José Goldemberg, Richard Morse, Richard Nelson, David King, John Gledson, Hélio Jaguaribe, Iván Izquierdo, Marina Silva.
The important role played by the journal "Estudos Avançados"
could not be left out from this short outline of the history of the Institute. The journal is a publication for scientific and cultural debate that has been issued uninterruptedly every four months since 1987. This journal is top 5 of the Scielo, the most important online database/library/platform of open access scientific journals in Latin America.
The projects are developed by research groups that are specially constituted for each of the analyzed themes. These themes are chosen from a series of proposals presented by researchers and institutions to the Board of Trustees, who often defines the work topics of its own accord.
The duration of each group is conditioned by the time that is necessary for the execution of the respective project. The average term lasts for two years. Due to the relevance of certain themes or to long-lasting agreements with other institutions, some groups act for longer or undetermined periods of time.
There are also research projects that are developed individually by visiting professors and visiting researchers, but they are always related to the themes of interest of the Institute.
The participation in the activities is open to researchers and professionals with projects that are related to IEA’s work themes. The analysis of this thematic confluence is performed by the research team coordinators and/or by the Board of Trustees. Participation is allowed to Brazilians and foreigners, those related to USP or not, holders of a university degree or not.
There are five positions for visiting professors (those external to USP), who receive a remuneration and a time limit of one to two years to develop their research projects. Other experts integrate into the activities without remuneration, as visiting researchers, to carry out individual projects or coordinate research teams. The body of researchers is completed with the other members of the teams and some of the Institute’s honorary professors, besides the specialists that are invited to deliver conferences or participate in seminars, panel discussions and other events.
The ultimate deciding body is the Board, which has ten members — among whom are the director and the deputy director. One of the positions is filled by a non-academic that represents the civil society. Another one is destined to a graduate student of the University of São Paulo. The remaining members are professors — one of them may be from another university.
The director’s duty is to chair the Board, comply with its deliberations, manage and coordinate the activities of the Institute.
In summary, with the creation of the IEA, the president’s office of the University of São Paulo seeks to fulfill a long-standing aspiration of their faculty and provide another instrument for the university to redeem its own history, stimulating an endogenous, yet internationalist process of critical reflection. It should be stressed, however, that the chosen model – which will certainly be improved with suggestions from their academic body – radically excludes the danger of transforming the IEA into a university within the university.
The goal is not to deprive their schools and departments of their substance; quite the opposite. Unlike the Colégio de México, the Collège de France or the École Pratique des Hautes Études, for instance, which exist outside the university, the model chosen by the University of São Paulo for its Institute of Advanced Studies distinguishes itself for being a space for reflection, a space to nurture advanced studies carried out within the institution by acknowledged masters of national and international repute.