Academic staff associations meeting in Ottawa for CAUT’s recent Council meeting voted unanimously in opposition to new grant programs at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council that will provide public funds for projects to solve “company-specific” problems for the private sector.
The new initiatives, dubbed the Engage Grants Program and the Interaction Grants Program, were announced on Nov. 24 as part of NSERC’s Strategy for Partnership and Innovation.
“The unanimous vote by delegates to the strongly-worded resolution against the new NSERC programs is very significant,” said James Turk, executive director of CAUT. “We are deeply distressed NSERC established these programs without any consultation with the broader academic research community.”
The resolution says: “NSERC must remain a granting council that enables peer-reviewed fundamental research. Whereas linkages between industry and universities consistent with academic freedom are possible, the targeting of granting council funds to private industry’s needs erodes Canada’s capacity to contribute to the general advancement of knowledge in the public interest.”
Turk says a big concern is that NSERC’s focus is reflected in the fact that more than half of its council members are from the private sector, and that many are not even scientists.
“At a time when virtually the only source of funding for basic research is Canada’s three granting councils, it is worrisome to see the direction NSERC is taking by establishing these two programs,” he said, adding that providing public money so researchers can solve “company-specific” problems is tantamount to providing “free labour for the corporate sector.”
CAUT has written a letter to NSERC’s president, asking to meet to discuss the programs and to ensure better consultation before future programs are established.