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Budget 2018 gives a major boost to fundamental research in Canada

An injection of $3 billion for research and expressed support for the “next generation of researchers” figures prominently in the federal budget.

BY ANQI SHEN | FEB 28 2018

The federal government has made what it calls the largest funding increase ever to fundamental research in Canada in its budget on Feb. 27. Among many items, the government has committed $1.7 billion over five years to tri-council agencies and research institutes, proposed stable funding for the Canada Foundation for Innovation, expressed support for early-career researchers and made equity a through line in the budget.

The university and research communities were closely watching the extent to which the government would adopt the recommendations of the Naylor report, commissioned by Science Minister Kirsty Duncan and publicly released in April 2017. Last year’s budget provided no new funding to the three major granting councils, nor any stable funding to the Canada Foundation for Innovation. This time around, groups in the university and research sector are calling the budget a “historic” reinvestment in Canadian science.

Over the next five years, the government has allocated $925 million to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. A new tri-council fund for interdisciplinary, high-risk research will receive more in the first year than was recommended in the report. This fund also ties in to the goals of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, established last October to harmonize programs and policies between the tri-councils and CFI. The amount pledged for investigator-led research represents just over half of the Naylor report’s recommendation. To support indirect costs of research, the government has pledged $231 million to the Research Support Fund over five years.

Beyond the dollar values, the budget and science review have opened a dialogue on what’s needed to improve the research ecosystem, said Martha Crago, a member of the fundamental science review panel and vice-principal, research and innovation, at McGill University. “I think this was a truly intriguing budget and one that shows a lot of openness to what was in the Naylor report,” she said. “It’s a multi-year budget so it allows us to have a roadmap going forward.”

The budget also includes $210 million over five years to the Canada Research Chairs Program, which could result in 250 additional CRCs by 2020-21. “The purpose of this investment will be to better support early-career researchers, while increasing diversity among nominated researchers, including increasing the number of women who are nominated,” the budget noted.

Since the budget was released, many in Canada’s research community have weighed in. Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto, commented on Twitter: “It’s a good news budget for [Canadian] science but let’s not pitch it as winning. Rather, it’s an investment for Canada that undoes some of the previous neglect.” Guy Laforest, president of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, called the budget “an important down payment” that helps to “reverse years of underinvestment” in social sciences and humanities research.

Holly Witteman, an associate professor in the department of family and emergency medicine at Université Laval, said in an interview she was heartened to see the budget’s nod to the fundamental science review report, but still has concerns as a health researcher. “I think it’s important to recognize that, especially after zero in the last budget, this is better.” But, “there’s still room to go. I’m worried that the balance between operating, salary, infrastructure, and indirect [costs] may not be quite there yet,” she said.

While graduate students, trainees and postdoctoral researchers will benefit from an increase in overall funding, the government will look at ways to support them directly through scholarships and fellowships in the next year, the budget noted. Vanessa Sung, co-president of the Science & Policy Exchange in Montreal, which propelled the “Students 4 the Report” campaign, said the budget was a significant step forward. “We are definitely happy with this initial investment,” she said. “As the campaign went on, we were included more and more with the other stakeholders. I think the community came together in a really amazing way.”

Katie Gibbs, executive director of the organization Evidence for Democracy, echoed that sentiment: “This success for science in Budget 2018 didn’t happen by chance, it happened because the research community pulled together and advocated in an unprecedented way over the last year.”

Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, also credited the research community’s unified voice in bringing about a positive outcome. “The government particularly invested in unfettered research, discovery and investigator-led research, and that’s significant,” Mr. Davidson said. “That was the core recommendation of the Naylor report – let researchers do their work, and don’t target or direct. … Putting it all together, Minister Duncan commissioned a study, the community rallied behind it, and the government listened.”

Key university-related funding:

    • CIHR: $354.7 million over five years ($90.1 million per year ongoing) to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research
      • CIHR will consolidate the eHealth Innovations Partnership Program and Proof of Principle Program into a single Industry Partnered Collaborative Research program.
    • NSERC: $354.7 million over five years ($90.1 million per year ongoing) to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
      • NSERC will consolidate the Engage Grants, Industrial Research Chairs, Connect Grants, Strategic Partnership Grants for Networks and Projects, and Experience Awards Grants into a single Collaborative Research and Development Grant program.
    • SSHRC: $215.5 million over five years ($54.8 million per year ongoing) to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)
    • New tri-council fund: $275 million over five years, and $65 million per year ongoing, to support research that is international, interdisciplinary, fast-breaking and higher-risk, which will be administered by SSHRC on behalf of the granting councils.
    • Canada Research Chairs Program: $210 million over five years, with $50 million per year ongoing, for a potential of 250 additional CRCs for early-career researchers by 2020–21.
    • Research Support Fund: $231.3 million over five years, with $58.8 million per year ongoing, to SSHRC, which administers this program on behalf of the granting councils.
    • Canada Foundation for Innovation: $763 million over five years, including $160 million for increased support to Canada’s nationally important research facilities through CFI’s Major Science Initiatives Fund. The government proposes to establish permanent funding at an ongoing level of $462 million per year by 2023–24 for research tools and infrastructure through CFI.
    • Big data: $572.5 million over five years, with $52 million per year ongoing, to implement a Digital Research Infrastructure Strategy that will deliver more open and equitable access to advanced computing and big data resources to researchers across Canada.
    • Addressing gender-based violence on campus: Up to $5.5 million over five years to Status of Women Canada to work with stakeholders, including provinces and territories, towards a national framework to ensure consistent, comprehensive and sustainable approaches to addressing gender-based violence at post-secondary institutions. Starting in 2019, for those universities and college campuses that are not implementing best practices addressing sexual assaults on campus, the government will consider withdrawing federal funding.
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  1. James B / February 28, 2018 at 22:35

    The sad thing is, this NSERC funding pales in comparison to the billions wasted on Ornge, the gas plants, etc. I’d like to be happy about the R&D funding, but this budget was all about ideology and buying votes, not strengthening our economy and the direction of our country.

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