We reported earlier that in the 2010 federal budget, NSERC received a $13 million budget increase, $5-million of which were ear-marked for the Research Partnership Program (RPP). So, what did NSERC do with the remaining $8-million?
First, some background. Though modest –just compare to Clement’s $300-million announcement for Pratt&Whitney– this funding was hailed as a symbolic victory, since many assumed that the remaining $8M were going directly to the Discovery Grant program, which has been under pressure since the Canada Research Chairs program (CRC) started injecting a large number of new senior researchers into the granting system, almost a decade ago.
Why symbolic? Because of what had happened in the 2009 federal budget. The research community had felt betrayed when it became apparent that the Tri-Council was getting a $43-million cut in a year where $2-billion were assigned to the so-called Knowledge Innovation Projects (KIP).
The “Don’t leave Canada behind Campaign” was launched, and the AUCC, with the help of a few University Presidents, started to make the argument to key federal cabinet ministers that in 2010 some non-targeted funding should be assigned to the Tri-Council so that they can support basic research.
The government’s decision not to target the totality of the funding increase received praise from the research community. It was assumed that the government’s stand on the support of basic research had finally evolved beyond past misconceptions and parti-pris.
But then what happened to the modest, yet so symbolic and supposedly non-targeted $8M ?
Unofficial sources have recently informed us that this money was allocated in the following way, though we caution that this information has not been confirmed by NSERC officials.
- $0.5-million was allocated to administration.
- $3-million went to Discovery Grant Accelerators. 69% of these grant supplements were given recently to targeted areas in line with the priorities of the federal government.
- $2.5-million went to Exceptional Researchers (such as Canada Research Excellence Chairs). Recall that this CERC program was created by government in 2008, to establish up to 20 prestigious research chairs in universities across the country. $28 million a year were budgeted to attract and retain the world’s most accomplished and promising researchers. Each CERC holder is awarded $10 million over seven years to pursue his or her research program. The hiring is focused on the four priority areas outlined in the Government’s science and technology strategy: environmental sciences and technologies; natural resources and energy; health and related life sciences and technologies; and information and communications technologies. For some strange reasons, UBC got one, UT got two, U. Alberta got 4 and McGill got zilch!
- $2.5-million is going to the Discovery and Innovation Frontiers program. NSERC is now describing it as an opportunity to address national research priorities and global challenges, admitting that it is a partnership program, without specifying any targeted area. However, the initial announcement by Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology) states that “the Discovery Frontiers will increase our knowledge of Canada’s northern ecosystem and support innovation that will benefit the northern economy.” Go figure!
Was this money targeted ? Just count the ways. Is it earmarked for basic research? Doubtful!
The bottom line is that there was no retrieve for the Discovery Grant program, which now explains why NSERC has announced plans to cut it by $14.5 million over the next three years. Indeed, in its 2010–2011 Report on Plans and Priorities, NSERC states 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.