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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2009

Shortchanged & Restricted:

Granting Councils Are Budget Losers

Many in Canada’s academic research community are ringing alarm bells over this year’s federal budget, warning that inadequate funding and increased government oversight will make it more difficult to attract and retain researchers.

While Finance Minister Jim Flaherty touted the budget as an economic action plan that included a new two-year, $2 billion infrastructure fund for univer­sities and colleges, CAUT’s executive director James Turk said he was mystified by the budget’s failure to increase funding for Canada’s three research granting agencies.

“There’s probably no better investment in the long-term economic and social well-being of Canadians than an investment in people and ideas,” said Turk. “That’s why it’s so bewildering the government is actually taking money away from the three agencies.”

He noted that buried inside the bud­get is a mention that the government had identified “strategic review savings” within the granting councils in overlaps of programs that will result in a decrease
in funding of close to $148 million over the next three years.

Some of the savings — $87.5 million — will be returned to the granting agen­cies not for research but to temporarily expand the Graduate Scholarships Pro­gram. The balance will be reallocated to the infrastructure fund and to upgrade Arctic research facilities.

“In the United States, the Obama ad­ministration recognizes that investments in research contribute to economic renewal rather than add to the national and global deficit and is proposing al­most $7 billion in new academic research funding as part of its stimulus package,” Turk said. “Our government’s failure to make a decision in supporting research and development initiatives will increase the likelihood that Canada will lose some of its top researchers.”

The government is also attaching new strings to the research funding it’s offering. The temporary graduate scholarships awarded by SSHRC have to be focused on business-related degrees and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which will receive $150 million in the current fiscal year and up to $600 mil­lion in future years, will be required to develop a new strategic plan in collabora­tion with the Ministry of Industry with all future CFI projects assessed based on priorities identified by the Minister.

“These are very disturbing developments that threaten to politicize aca­demic research,” says Turk. “Funding de­cisions should be made on their me­rit by the research community, not by politicians.”

The budget also provides $50 million to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo and $110 million over three years to the Canadian Space Agency.

The new infrastructure funding of $2 billion announced in the budget is intended to “repair, retrofit and expand facilities at post-secondary institutions.” Project proposals will be managed by Industry Canada with preference given to projects that improve the quality of university research and development, and colleges’ ability to deliver skills training.

CAUT president Penni Stewart is concerned that there are serious flaws in the program because of requirements that institutions raise at least half of the funding through other sources.

“Provincial governments are facing serious fiscal restraints, and in light of the current economic downturn, it is going to be a challenge for universities and colleges to leverage support from the private sector,” she said. “In short, there is no guarantee the money will actually be spent.”

Stewart also said the budget failed to address the most important needs for the post-secondary education community. Among them, she said, is trans­fers to provinces for core operating funding
for universities and colleges, more funding for academic research and funding for student financial assistance.

“Overall the budget will not adequ­ately stimulate the Canadian economy, will do little for the most vulnerable and will fail to meet the needs of Ca­nada’s vital post-secondary education sector,” she said.