The 2015 federal budget tabled last month was another disappointment for Canada’s academic and research community.
“The budget continues with the overriding focus of the Harper government’s preference for tying research funding to partnerships with industry, while undervaluing basic, discovery-driven research,” said CAUT executive director David Robinson.
Budget 2015 provides $10 million of new funding for research this year. Other announcements represented a reallocation of existing funding, such as $119.2 million over two years to support industry-partnered research and development activities of the National Research Council, and $105 million over five years to bolster CANARIE’s digital research infrastructure system.
There’s no new funding for the three granting councils in fiscal year 2015–2016, although the budget proposes $46 million next year, with most of this earmarked for partnership programs, and $9 million for the Research Support Fund that helps post-secondary institutions with the indirect costs of research.
The budget also announced $1.33 billion over six years for the Canada Foundation for Innovation, with the overwhelming bulk of the funds invested after 2018 and pegged to support advanced research infrastructure to fuel collaborative projects with the private sector.
“When it comes to supporting university-based research, the federal government has an unbalanced approach,” said Robinson. “The government continues to miss the fact that real innovation and scientific advancements are driven by long-term basic research, not short-term market demands.”
Many of the research funding announcements in the 2015 federal budget appear to be directed to politically-driven initiatives in targeted electoral areas, or for business-led collaborations. For instance, any doubt on the electoral importance of Southwestern Ontario can be eliminated through the announcement that almost half of the $10 million of new funding in the coming year is set aside for a new program to support innovation by auto suppliers.
But despite generous corporate subsidies and targeted research funding, Canada continues to fail by international standards in research and development. Canada sits in 22nd spot in the OECD list of 34 countries for business investments in R&D, down from 16th in 2006.
It signals a trend that should be worrisome to anyone concerned about science policy, said Robinson.
“The investments announced in this year’s budget and those introduced last year are not enough to drive real advances in knowledge that lead to innovations,” he said. “The government’s approach to date has failed, even by its own standards. Canadians deserve a new direction in science policy, one that supports the basic research that benefits us all.”