A Canadian government scheme to encourage university research and attract academics back from overseas is being challenged by a group of professors who say it may discriminate against women and minorities.
Industry Canada, the ministry that brought the country's universities one of their biggest research investments in the past decade, will have to defend its scheme before a federal human-rights tribunal.
In 2000, the federal government allocated C$900million (£391 million) to support the establishment of 2,000 Canada Research Chairs. So far more than a third of the chairs have been appointed and split into salary tiers of C$200,000 and C$100,000.
But eight women professors have alleged that funding favours the male-dominated health sciences and engineering disciplines. They also argue that not requiring universities to advertise for positions or report and monitor racial breakdowns led to an "old boys' network".
Marjorie Griffin Cohen of Simon Fraser University, one of a group that filed the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, said: "The universities have been shameless in divvying up these chairs."
Of the 14 chairs appointed so far at Simon Fraser, only one has gone to a woman. Professor Cohen said the group would present documented evidence of women being treated more harshly in negotiating their appointments.
In the first round of research chair appointments, only 10 per cent were awarded to women. Since then there has been some improvement.
Rene Durocher, executive director of Canada Research Chairs, said the numbers were starting to rise: 22 per cent of the next round of nominations was female.