Grant selection seasons bring forward dozens of individual complaints from disappointed applicants in every province in Canada, yet the task of looking at the global picture and at the real causes for these often regrettable situations, is often taken up by very few colleagues. The responsibility of questioning government’s priorities that lead to these situations, and bureaucracy’s ways of making funding decisions that exacerbate them, are also left to an even fewer number of individuals.
Sometimes, “underground democracy” initiatives emerge from nowhere, and succeed before they fade away.
Similarly, while buoyed by the overwhelming support of the UBC faculty, I sometimes feel alone and helpless, in the face of often-irreversible Board decision-making. I yearn for the counsel and advice of colleagues, but how do you get them and where do you start when they are not even aware of the issues under discussion? Yet, they are the first to feel the consequences on their professional lives.
Knowledge is power is less clichésque than you think. Information can change people’s global outlook. Transparency forces accountability, and the knowledge that knowledge is available is a major deterrent against stupid or corrupt decision making. But also, nothing is more rewarding than informed consent. Let me try a few examples:
- Would you accept the premise that $350 million for the Discovery Grants of more than 11,000 Canadian researchers doing basic and applied research is an “entitlement”, once you read about the billion dollars subsidies for Pratt and Whitney?
- What about the knowledge that the government is spending over $7 billion dollars on federal programs that support business innovation? Wouldn’t you be interested to know whether and how the current review that the government has so rightly initiated is going to shake out? What about contributing to such a review?
- Would you settle for the finality of an 18K average DG grant per annum in a fiercely competitive competition for Discovery grants, when you learn about the 25K “Engage and Interaction Grants”, available for a 6 month duration, and assigned by bureaucrats with no peer review? All in the name of rescuing Canada’s Innovation.
- Will you be surprised at the volatility of the new “NSERC binning system” for Canadian scientists, the doubling of appeals of grant decisions and the current anxiety of grant applicants, once you learn about the amateurish process behind this chaotic situation?
- What about anticipating the potential impact of the British attempts to reform their post-secondary system? The failed attempt of the French in restructuring their research organizations and their academic institutions? The rants of our local “useful idiots” against university professors and researchers? What about the “citizen reviews”, solicited by certain US politicians of the research projects supported by the National Science Foundation.
Knowledge is power, and sharing it is even more empowering. I will sketch in the next two posts a few ideas on how an attempt can be made through this blog to work for Canada and for its institutions of higher learning.