After a lengthy delay, the federal government released details of the Canada Research Chairs Program last month, but critics warn the plans raise serious concerns.
"Increased public funding for post-secondary education is urgently required to meet the core needs of universities and colleges," noted CAUT president Tom Booth. "But in our view the research chairs initiative will do little to meet these needs and, in fact, may worsen the problems facing our universities and colleges."
Under the current proposals, the federal government will allocate $300 million over the next three years to create 2,000 research chairs at Canada's universities. Of the total number of chairs, 6 per cent will be reserved for smaller universities, while the rest will be allocated to universities based on their three-year average share of funding received from the federal granting councils. According to the program guide, 20 per cent of the chairs will be awarded to the humanities and social sciences, 35 per cent to the medical sciences, and 45 per cent to the natural and applied sciences.
Based on current data CAUT estimates almost two-thirds of the chairs will be awarded to 10 universities, while 80 others will have to vie for the remainder.
"The fact that the bulk of the chairs will be given to just 10 universities raises serious concerns that larger universities will simply poach faculty from smaller institutions," said Booth.
He also expressed concern that only 20 per cent of the chairs will be available for the humanities and social sciences, even though this figure does not adequately reflect the share of research activity in these fields. "The under-representation of research chairs in the humanities and social sciences could seriously shift the balance among disciplines."
CAUT also calculates the 2,000 new chairs will require the equivalent of 50 new buildings for offices and labs, but funding for this infrastructure is not guaranteed. Some grants will be available through the Canada Foundation for Innovation, but awards are contingent on securing matching funding from private and others partners.
"If partners can't be found, the university will be on the hook for meeting the infrastructure requirements of the chairs," warned CAUT executive director Jim Turk. "Other areas will have to be sacrificed."
Turk also noted that funding for the research chairs is guaranteed for just three years, even though appointments run from five to seven years and most will be tenured. "If the program is not renewed, cash-strapped universities may have to absorb the $300 million annual cost of the chairs."