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Graduate student scholarships to increase for the first time in two decades in research heavy federal budget

The Liberals’ major injection in research and innovation has been met with overwhelmingly positive responses.


Canadian universities and researchers received welcome news following the tabling of the latest federal budget: the government will invest $3.5 billion in research and innovation. Graduate student scholarships will increase for the first time in more than two decades, while the federal granting agencies will receive their first significant investment since 2019.

Beginning in 2024-25, master’s and doctoral student scholarships will increase to $27,000 and $40,000 respectively, and postdoctoral fellowships to $70,000. The budget increased the total number of graduate student scholarships by 1,720. The Liberal government is raising the core funding for the Tri-Councils to the tune of $1.8 billion over five years with nearly $750 million in ongoing support. The budget has also earmarked $2 billion for funding in AI research and innovation as well as significant investments in research infrastructure.

“This budget is very comprehensive, it’s broad as well as deep, and I think it’s going to be very significant,” said Chad Gaffield, president of the U15 group of research universities. The government’s investments will help Canadian universities keep top research talent in the country, he added.  “The fear of brain drain is going to be replaced by our ability to retain and attract students.”

Marc Johnson, chair of the board of  grassroots advocacy organization Support Our Science, called the increase in support for young researchers a big win. “Today we’re celebrating wtih thousands and thousands of graduate students, postdocs and scientists across the country,” said Dr. Johnson.

Beyond talent retention, Fahim Quadir, vice-president and president elect of the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies, said these investments hold the promise of advancing Canada as a global centre of research excellence that can accelerate “pioneering ideas aimed at effecting positive socio-economic change.”

The government has also announced that it will create a new capstone research funding organization dedicated to enabling internationally collaborative, mission-driven and multidisciplinary research. The three granting agencies – the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – will continue to exist, focusing on investigator-led research, but will now be under the umbrella of this new yet-to-be-named organization. The new governance mechanism will be structured to coordinate the distribution of research funding and increase the impact of federal investments in research. The move is similar to research governing bodies in countries like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

The government also plans to harmonize existing scholarships and fellowships for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, providing the Tri-Councils with funding to establish a single portal for recipients to apply for and receive funding. The current patchwork of grants will be streamlined into an annual award at the new sums of $27,000, $40,000 and $70,000 respectively. For example, the SSHRC doctoral fellowships (currently valued at $20,000) and the CIHR doctoral foreign study award (currently valued at $35,000) will both be valued at $40,000 and will be distributed by the same organization through the same portal. The Vanier Graduate Scholarships, valued at $50,000, will be discontinued.

Increasing Indigenous participation in research is a budget priority, with the government providing $30 million over three years with $10 million each going to First Nations, Métis and Inuit partners. University of Saskatchewan President Peter Stoicheff noted this is an important step towards research equity, although the details of the announcement are still unclear.

Among the research infrastructure investments, the budget allocates  $30 million to complete the U of S’s centre for pandemic research, $45.5 million for the astroparticle physics research institute headquartered at Queen’s University, and a major investment of nearly $400 million to University of British Columbia’s physics laboratory TRIUMF. The government will also provide $176 million beginning next year to the not-for-profit CANARIE to manage the ultra-high-speed network that connects researchers across the country.

Dr. Stoicheff says the infrastructure spending is very welcome news. “You’ve got a federal government here that isn’t really receiving political pressure to make these kinds of moves,” he said. “They’re doing it because they understand the value that we bring to making Canada competitive and the value universities bring them for prosperity, growth and innovation.”

The government said its budgeting decisions came after  consultations across the university sector, including with the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System, which released its recommendations in March 2023.

Read more: New advisory panel hopes to bring fresh look at research support

The government responded to the panel’s recommendation to create an advisory council to guide the government in setting long-term priorities for research and innovation. The Council on Science and Innovation, announced in Budget 2024, will comprise leaders from academia, industry and the not-for-profit sector, and will be tasked with creating a national strategy on science and innovation. Frédéric Bouchard, dean of the faculty of arts and science at Université de Montréal and chair of the panel, said the creation of the committee will be critical for a healthy research support system long-term. “It will ensure that the government has a council that informs it about the best strategies to adopt,” said Dr. Bouchard.

Dr. Bouchard said he is encouraged that the government adopted several recommendations from his report, though the budget falls short of the total amount recommended for graduate student funding. “In a way, the issue is never closed. But it must be recognized that these are very significant gestures that have been made today,” he said. “So, it was a good day in terms of the budget.”

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  1. Reinhart Reithmeier / April 17, 2024 at 17:23

    It’s about time the Federal Government recognized the value of our graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, who carry out most of the cutting-edge research in universities and hospitals across Canada.

  2. Samuel / April 19, 2024 at 00:48

    The number of awards is unfortunately completely insufficient and institutes have funding packages well below poverty lines. To say this will “benefit all” of the 300,000 graduate students across Canada is completely disingenuous. The process of granting these scholarships has been completely arbitrary in my faculty since you have several strong researchers competing for one or two awards allocated to the entire faculty.

  3. UurT / April 19, 2024 at 08:13

    Will this apply to postdocs who will be starting their fellowships in 2024 whose notice of award states the amount as 45k per year? When will the increase be in effect?

    • Marcella / May 5, 2024 at 16:16

      Will these changes apply to those already doing their doctorates?

  4. M Brant / April 24, 2024 at 13:14

    Will the increased scholarship amounts actually make it into the pockets of graduate students though? As it currently stands most universities scoop the funds and use it to replace the funding they would have otherwise provided and only give a small ‘top up” bonus rather than adding it to the students’ compensation package. It remains to be seen if the amount of the bonus is increased or if the additional funds are just absorbed by the universities themselves.

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