The federal government has chosen to allow CEOs and politicians to decide what research projects are worth funding.
More and more changes have been made to the composition of granting council boards by appointing industry and political representatives instead of peer researchers and scholars.
In May 2013 the Government of Canada launched a refocused National Research Council, transforming it into a service that provides solutions for businesses. This shift has the real potential to come at the cost of basic curiosity-driven research—the foundation of applied research and innovation.
Cutting bureaucracy? or cutting research support?
The federal government’s pursuit of a smaller bureaucracy has resulted in its off-loading of research and scientific endeavors. All too frequently it has withdrawn support from scientific research and left NGOs, individuals, and businesses to step in to fill the void.
“This may sound like a win-win situation.”
“The research continues and the government no longer foots the bill—but there are very serious downsides to offloading science onto communities and non-governmental organizations.
“When the government backs out of supporting science it erodes the stability of the Canadian science, jeopardizes safety and security, and threatens Canada’s long-term prosperity.”
The federal government has chosen to increase funding for industry-related research, decrease funding to granting councils, and change the way grants are awarded.
In December 2014, the federal government announced new money for research in the form of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, confirming its new emphasis on “research that creates jobs.” The University of Saskatchewan is receiving $32 million from this program.
The NSERC Discovery Grant Program fell from a high of just over $86 million in 2009 to less than $65 million in 2011. And, while it has regained some ground ($68 million in 2014), it is still below earlier levels. The main source of long-term funding for primary academic research programs in Canada, NSERC Discovery Grants have been eroded by funding cuts and changes to the way grants are awarded. These decisions have resulted in fewer grants to graduate and post-doctoral researchers.
From Basic Research to Commercial Interests
“Basic research studies that are needed for the future development of health care policy have suffered from this redirection of research funds to only a few select areas that have the potential for an immediate return on investment. … research topics that are not of interest to commercial or business interests are being starved. … All Canadians are losers when an inadequate number of studies are conducted and a narrow scope of research is permitted.”
—Donna Wilson, University of Alberta
Shifting Away from Funding Basic Research
|Granting Council base funding, 2007-2015 (constant 2010 dollars, millions)|
Source: SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR Departmental Performance Reports, Reports on Planning and Priorities, Budget 2014
SSHRC Funding, 2007–15
NSERC Funding, 2007–2015
CIHR Funding, 2007–15
It’s about choice.
“In the last federal budget, the government provided not a single cent in new funding for basic science — the research that is the foundation for real innovation. This will mean that at university campuses across the country valuable scientific research will not be funded, many current projects will run out of money, and labs will be closed.”James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT)