Here are some answers to the questions in yesterday’s post, put in the global context of the granting system.
1. Let’s start with the boring stuff. The three programs are new, though “Frontiers” is newer and just off the ground, while “Engage” and “Interactions” were launched last year.
2. The three are in the Research Partnership Program division (Janet Walden’s domain). None is in the Research Grants division (Isabelle Blain’s fiefdom), though the play on both aspects of Frontiers (Innovation and Discovery) is cute.
3. The three programs require collaboration with industrial partners, and are supposed to address the “innovation agenda”.
4. The three programs do not require “peer review”. This is explicitly stated for “Engage”. Equivalent ways to state the same thing are: “Delivered by NSERC Regional Offices” and “closely work with staff”.
This is simply incredible considering how much time and effort is spent by hundreds of Canadian colleagues on Evaluation Committees, and by external and internal reviewers in order to develop a fair and equitable peer review system for the Discovery Grants.
Furthermore, doesn’t this practice re-open the discussion on why –unlike the NSF, CNRS and other granting agencies– NSERC’s decision making is made by bureaucrats, and not led by scientists who can be seconded –for limited amounts of time– from their home universities?
5. NSERC promises a fast turn around for the three programs. Just think how long and protracted is the process for any application through the “Major Resource Support” (MRS) program.
6. The Intellectual Property (IP) of the 3 programs lies with the industrial partner. Quite a change from NSERC’s past practices!
7. At 89% the success rate of Engage is quite high. This number shouldn’t surprise. After all, look how they are advertising it. “$25,000 from NSERC, no company cash required”. Who can say no to 25K for such an easy “first date” with a partner?
Isn’t it remarkable that the success of this program is measured by its high success rate, while the success of the new “binning system” for the Discovery Grants is measured by its dwindling success rate? — from 71 per cent in 2008 to 64 percent in 2009 and falling to a record-low level of 58 per cent this year.
8. The three programs must have squeezed some cash from elsewhere at NSERC. Remember that the last federal budget assigned $13m to NSERC, $5m of which was earmarked for the RPP program. The sum of these 3 programs must surely cost more than that. I understand that the budget for “Engage” alone was set at $6m and that it has been so successful that more cash was added to the program. Actually, the stated figures already give $25,000 x 347=$8,675,000.
The question is now: Where did the money come from? Didn’t the remaining $8m go to the Discovery Grants? Is this the reason why the budget for basic research is being cut by $14.5 million over the next three years. Indeed, NSERC states in its 2010–2011 Report on Plans and Priorities (You need to scroll down a bit) that it intends to reduce funding for basic research a further 3.6 per cent from $364.9 million in 2009–2010 to $351.9 million by 2012–2013.