What a difference a year makes

Last year’s cuts to the research granting councils, though relatively small, were magnified by their inclusion in a so-called “stimulus budget” full of spending increases in other areas.

This year, the opposite is true. Funding increases, though relatively small, are made more significant by the context of spending restraint evidenced elsewhere in the budget.

At least in part, this decision is due to the efforts of researchers who made themselves heard. Whether by signing the “don’t leave Canada behind” petition or through other efforts, researchers told the government that supporting research is important. Kudos to the government for listening.

So, according to Rob Annan, here are the research-related numbers?

  • An annual budget increase of $32-million to the three granting councils, starting in 2010-2011. This is generally non-targeted, and is designed to sustain their overall research support. The breakdown is: $16-million for CIHR, $13-million for NSERC, and $3-million for SSHRC. The NSERC money is divided between $8-million for advanced research support and $5-million to foster collaborations between academia and industry.
  • $8-million for the Indirect Costs of Research Program, to help institutions support the increased research related to the tricouncil increases.
  • $75-million for Genome Canada in 2009-2010. Funding for Genome Canada was omitted in last year’s budget, to much outcry. This funding, which is for the current fiscal year, will allow Genome Canada to proceed with a couple of previously announced initiatives related to forestry and the environment.
  • $45-million over five years for “new and prestigious” post-doc fellowships. These 140 2-year fellowships, valued at $70,000 annually, are designed to “attract top-level talent to Canada”. These are the post-doc equivalent of the Vanier scholarships for graduate students.
  • $9-million for the Rick Hansen Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the creation of an international centre of excellence in spinal cord care and research.
  • $20-million over five years for the establishment of a Canadian High Arctic Research Station.
  • $126-million over five years to fund TRIUMF (“Canada’s premier national laboratory for nuclear and particle physics research and… home to the world’s largest cyclotron”)
  • $15-million annually for the College and Community Innovation Program (CCIP), doubling its size. This program encourages collaboration between colleges and local industry.
  • $135-million over two years for 11 NRC regional innovation clusters.
  • $35-million to NRC to support R&D of new technologies for the production of medical isotopes.
  • $397-million over five years to the Canadian Space Agency to develop the next generation of RADARSAT advanced radar remote sensing satellites.
  • $8-million to extend the International Science and Technology Partnerships Program (ISTPP), which promotes collaborative R&D with international partners.
  • The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will get $19-million annually to extend the Atlantic Innovation Fund, a competitive initiative for academia and industry to develop and commercialize new technologies.
  • The 2009 budget allocated $750-million for CFI, of which $150-million has been spent. New competitions will be announced in the coming months for the allocation of the rest.

So there you have it. By my reckoning, this totals more than $1.1-billion in new research-related spending over the next five years (not including the ACOA or CFI money). According to the Globe and Mail, the total of new spending measures over the same period is expected to be just under $5-billion. And so, the research community is receiving more than 20% of new spending measures in this budget. And this doesn’t include the $600-million still to come from CFI.

That’s pretty darned impressive.

Sure, there are a few concerns. The increases in tri-council funding don’t erase the cuts outlined in last year’s budget. The $32-million increase is in relation to the $43-million cut outlined in last year’s budget, which means they will still have $11-million less in 2010-2011.  Also, the spending announcements don’t exactly merge into a clear and unified science and technology strategy, but are rather a bit of a hodge-podge; some of the announcements clearly designed to address other policy issues, like arctic sovereignty. Finally, there’s lots of talk about innovation and the future, but little evidence that the conclusions of major reports by the Science, Technology and Innovation Council or the Council of Canadian Academies have been applied to a new “Innovation Strategy”.

It would have been easy for this government to stand pat on research funding, or increase cuts, and then hide behind the deficit-fighting argument. Instead, this government recognized the importance of research to the recovering economy and allocated a relatively large slice of a rather small spending pie to Canadian research.

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