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CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 2011

Grant Success Rates Disappoint

There’s disappointment in Ca­na­da’s research community after the latest announcement of grant awards from the federal government’s research funding agencies.

“Despite an outcry over the state of research funding, success rates for grants have declined over the past decade,” said CAUT executive director James Turk. “The results speak volumes for the struggles agencies face with inadequate funding.”

The overall success rate for Discovery Grants awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), says Turk, “remains disappointingly low for a second year in a row at 58 per cent, and has begun to cause disquiet among researchers.”

While the number of “discovery” researchers funded by NSERC increased marginally from 1,940 in 2010 to 2,002 in 2011, the average grant decreased by about $900 over this interval, from $33,129 to $32,186.

After bottoming out at 33 per cent in 2009, success rates for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) flagship Standard Research Grants have risen over the past year to 37 per cent, but the tradeoff for success is the realization of smaller grants.

The average amount of grant funding for recipients has dropped nearly 20 per cent since 2004, from a high of about $90,000, to $83,000 in 2009 to $73,000 in 2011.1

SSHRC reports that more than one quarter of applications deemed fundable through peer review can’t be funded within the existing budget.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has the lowest success level of the tricouncil agencies, with the percentage of successful applicants for the 2010-2011 operating grants competition at only 23 per cent, a significant move down from the 30 per cent ranges of previous years.

Out of 1,475 grant applications approved, only 501 could receive funding from CIHR’s operating grant envelope.

More than 1,900 health resear­chers have now signed a petition protesting the historically low success rates in the individual CIHR operating grants competition, noting that many excellent proposals remain unfunded.

The petition warns that “if we continue to starve the individual grants program we will lose investigators of talent to other countries as they come to see a bleak future for themselves in Canada. Those who stay risk random periods of lapsed funding which will jeopardize their competitiveness and indeed their careers.”

Turk says the Canadian situation offers a stark contrast with the U.S., where the Obama administration has pumped billions of dollars in­to the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

“The positioning here of reduced budgets is clearly not good for current researchers, nor for Canada’s next generation of research talent,” Turk said.

“It’s vital that the federal government provide significant increases in financial support to its granting agencies so they can fund the basic research on which our future depends.”

1SSHRC grants are awarded over three years.