Canadian budget pledges major investment in research and students

After flat research funding drew complaints last year from universities, new plan warmly welcomed

April 17, 2024
Justin Trudeau
Source: iStock

The Trudeau administration has outlined a new Canadian budget that promises billion of dollars in additional investment in academic research and student aid, cheering institutions after a disappointing initial outline this winter.

The new federal budget for the 2024-25 cycle includes a five-year gain of 30 per cent in spending for the nation’s three research funding agencies, plus a C$1.1 billion (£640 million) hike in interest-free student loans and grants.

It also provides a “substantial increase in the value and number” of graduate scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships, and new funding for student mental healthcare, according to Universities Canada, the nation’s chief higher education grouping.

The Trudeau plan is designed to “attract and increase investment, enhance productivity and encourage the kind of game-changing innovation that will create good-paying and meaningful jobs and keep Canada at the economic forefront”, the government said in announcing its budget.

After bemoaning a lack of attention to their interests in the November budget announcement, Canadian universities showered the Trudeau administration with praise for this version.

“By prioritising research, scholarships and mental health, today’s budget represents progress for students and university research across the country,” the Universities Canada president, Gabriel Miller, said in summarising the blueprint.

It returned Canada to “the winning strategy that was launched in the late 1990s to prepare Canada for the new economy and society of the 21st century”, said Chad Gaffield, chief executive of U15 Canada, the country’s top-tier grouping of research universities.

The president of the top-ranked Canadian institution, Meric Gertler at the University of Torontoalso joined in, calling the Trudeau commitment “a very significant and welcome recognition of the critical role the research ecosystem plays in driving Canada’s productivity and prosperity”.

In terms of research areas, the Trudeau budget put a particular emphasis on its previously identified preference for the pursuit of expertise in artificial intelligence.

It also adds C$825 million to help master’s and doctoral students, and postdoctoral fellows, raising the per-person value of their scholarships and fellowships, and expanding their numbers by more than 1,720 awards.

The action marks the second time since 2018 that the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has announced a large hike in research spending after first commissioning an expert report affirming the need. The latest such analysis – by a panel led by Frédéric Bouchard, the dean of arts and sciences at the University of Montreal – called last year for a 10 per cent annual increase over five years for the big three science funding councils.

The administration’s lack of action in its previous budget plan, issued last November as the Bouchard recommendations were being made public, alarmed academic leaders, who questioned the federal government’s understanding of the stakes. Professor Bouchard said at the time, however, that he remained optimistic that Mr Trudeau’s advisers were working on ways that they could implement his panel’s ideas.

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