Canadian budget brings multibillion-dollar boost for research

Academics celebrate major increase in basic research funding, but pledges fall short of recommendations in Naylor report

February 28, 2018
Canadian bobsleigh team
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Canada’s government has pledged to increase research and science funding by nearly C$4 billion (£3.1 billion) over the next five years, winning plaudits from academics and universities.

Finance minister Bill Morneau said that the additional funding announced in the Liberal government’s budget would include an extra C$925 million over five years for the country’s three research councils, plus C$235 million per year in subsequent years.

The budget also included a new investment of C$275 million over five years to create a “tri-council fund” to support “international, interdisciplinary, fast-breaking and higher-risk research”.

Together, the two investments will increase the granting councils’ annual budgets for fundamental research by “over 25 per cent when they reach their peak in three years’ time”, according to budget documents.

While the pledges fall short of the recommendations in last year’s Naylor report, which called for annual funding for basic research to rise by more than a third or C$1.3 billion within four years, the new funding represents “the single largest investment in fundamental research in Canadian history”, according to the budget.

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation, which funds research infrastructure and equipment, will receive an extra C$763 million over five years. Overall, it will receive regular annual funding of C$462 million a year to allow better planning.

Canada’s research chairs programme will also receive a C$210 million increase in funding over five years, targeted at increasing the number of chairs provided to early career researchers and women.

The announcements are particularly welcome given that last year’s budget announced a freeze in basic research funding. At the time, concerns were raised that the government may have been hesitant to implement the recommendations in the science review, given that the report was published just weeks after the 2017 budget.

Writing for Times Higher Education, Creso Sá, director of the Centre for the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education at the University of Toronto, said that while the boost to fundamental research funding is “only just over half the magnitude of increase suggested by the Naylor report”, it “restores a trajectory of funding growth following years of stagnation, interrupted only by the Liberal Party’s 2016 budget: its first after coming into office”.

“Considering the mixed messages the government has sent since then – avoiding public statements on the Naylor report, renewing boutique programmes that the report criticised, the 2017 budget freeze – this will certainly be welcomed if not celebrated,” he said.

Jeremy Kerr, university research chair in macroecology and conservation at the University of Ottawa, called the budget a “landmark” document, stating that the various funding boosts to science amount to “a truly massive increase of C$3.9 billion over the next five years”.

Professor Kerr, who last year co-authored a report for the Global Young Academy, an international society of early career scientists, which argued that blue-skies research in Canada had “collapsed”, added that for the “first time ever, there is actually five years of budgetary planning and growth around science” in the budget.

“Usually, budgets ‘buy off’ the science community for a year and then ignore us for a decade. This government is doing something completely different and completely welcome,” he said.

Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto, said that the funding boosts show that Canadian researchers’ “harmonious, coherent message to government” to support the Naylor report “paid off”.

“The themes of the Fundamental Science Review, namely integration and coordination of funding agencies, stabilisation of funding and promotion of equity and diversity as well as supporting young researchers, have all found a voice in the details of the federal budget,” he said.

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