Budget targets neglected research costs

December 21, 2001

The Canadian government is to help universities meet the indirect costs of research with a C$200 million (£88 million) injection in this month's federal budget, writes Philip Fine.

In the past few years, the government has ratcheted up university research funding, creating 1,200 university chairs, setting up matching grants for private-sector investment in innovation and restoring federal granting agencies' previously axed budgets. But costs such as increased space for new laboratories and more reporting to regulatory agencies have been adding up.

The budget announcement came after lobbying by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. In a speech to the House of Commons, the association's Robert Giroux said indirect costs for federally sponsored research were forcing universities to divert money from other areas. "It is creating unproductive tensions between teaching and research," he said.

Indira Samarasekera, vice-president of research at the University of British Columbia, said: "While the new federal programmes to support research have helped to advance our research ability, administrative costs of research have strained budgets."

A parliamentary report says indirect research costs are a priority. Canada, it says, is one of the few developed countries where indirect overheads are not covered.

The AUCC had been calling on the government to reimburse universities for indirect research costs at a rate of 40 per cent over and above direct costs. The figure they asked for was an annual investment of up to C$400 million.

The announcement of the one-off payment of C$200 million was met with a mixed response. University of Regina president David Barnard said: "This is a positive step forward in recognising this category of costs." His money will be spent on increases in staffing and space.

Two national lobby groups that represent students and professors criticised the one-off approach. They placed core funding and student debt above the need for indirect costs of research to be paid.

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