20 years of NSERC funding for Discovery

Many thanks again to Queen’s Professor, David Wehlau for rummaging with NSERC’s search engine to come up with very useful historical data for the funding of the Discovery Grants program. David was of course interested in the historical trends for the mathematical sciences (the numbers don’t look very pretty there –see Table at bottom). But he was kind enough to prepare the two following tables so that we can learn more about the global picture.


Note for example how stagnant the support has been for the “Discovery Grants Programs” (DGP) in the last few years, particularly since 2007.

2009-2010       $561,874,334
2008-2009      $560,157,628
2007-2008       $560,855,961

In 1991-1992, $274,228,611 was spent under the Discovery Grant programs and a total of  $465,153,926 was spent under all NSERC programs. This represents 59% going to the Discovery Grants program.

In the fiscal year 2009-2010,  $561,874,334 was spent under the Discovery Grant programs and a total of  $1,003,483,757 was spent under all NSERC programs. This corresponds to 56.2%.

The change of the DGP relative to the total NSERC budget appears minimal, but keep in mind that our cherished Individual Discovery Grants (IDG) (Operating grants) account for a fraction of that pot, and this fraction has been going down. Indeed, in FY2000-01 the Individual Discovery Grants was 72.28% of the Discovery Grant programs. It was 55.12% in 2009-10.

The main reason behind this drop is of course the inclusion of the funds for the Canada Research Chairs (CRCs) in the DGP budget (see the next table).  Note however that during that period the CRC program added almost 900 grantees to the system. One should also add the various new programs that were introduced to the DGP in the last few years (such as Accelerator Grants, Accelerator supplements, Northern Research Supplement, CREATE?, etc…). They were essentially competing with the Individual Discovery Grants in an almost zero-sum game (at least since 2007).


Here are some clarifications from David as to what the data covers. Note that all the percentages here are totals over the fiscal years 1991-1992 through 2009-2010.

The data in the 3 tables is all for “The Discovery Grants Programs (DGP)”. It does not include the Research Partnership programs (RPP), nor the Training Programs (Scholarships etc…).

1.    The DGP include the well-known Individual Discovery Grants (IDG) (Operating grants), which account for 62.41% of that pot. The Discovery (operating) Grants (DOG) include besides the IDG: Accelerator Grants, Accelerator supplements, Group Discovery Grants, Institutes and Initiatives, Leadership Support, Multidisciplinary Network Groups, Northern Research Supplement, Projects, Ship Time.

2.    The (DOG) is essentially 64.33% of the (DGP) budget. The remaining 35.66% of the (DGP) goes for various programs. Here is a list of those taking more than 0.5%:

CRC  11.13%
Collaborative Health Research Projects 0.68%
Collaborative Research and Training experience 0.63%
Collaborative Special Project Grants 1.1%
Infrastructure Grants 0.82%
Major Facilities Access Grants 2.22%
Major Resources Support Program – Infrastructure 0.83%
Promo-Science 0.66%
Research tools and Instruments 9.11%
International Workshops 0.82%
Subatomic Physics Envelope 4.94%

3.    Advancement of Knowledge is one of 13 categories that NSERC uses (in its database) to describe grants. The various categories in this classification are:

Advancement of Knowledge 43.84%
Agriculture and primary food production 3.04%
Commercial Services 0.46%
Construction, urban and rural planning 1.7%
Energy Resources 2.88%
Environment 7.92%
Health Education and social services 2.54%
Information and communication services 5.47%
Manufacturing processes and products 8.42%
Natural resources (economic aspects) 1.7%
Northern development 0.56%
Not available 20.10% (i.e., unspecified field of research)
Transportation systems and services 1.38%

4.  20% of the money awarded between 1991 and 2010 is listed in the category “Unavailable”, i.e., the field of research is not specified in the NSERC database.

5.    Data was not  provided for the fiscal year 2010-2011.

For mathematical scientists, the picture looks more grim. I count on your eagle eyes and sharp analytical skills to analyze the numbers in the following table.


Comments are welcome … as usual.

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