Here we go again! A headline from the latest NSERC-Contact newsletter.
CREATE adds industrial and international opportunities
“The CREATE program will have two new dimensions in the 2012 competition. In keeping with NSERC’s goal to give students the opportunity to learn skills needed in Canadian enterprises, an industrial stream has been added to the program. Up to half of the grants for the 2012-13 fiscal year will be awarded to proposals featuring a formal industrial link.”
But don’t worry, industrial partners, this won’t cost you anything!
“An industrial financial contribution is encouraged, but not required.”
The pitch sounds eerily familiar. Remember the infomercial:
Engage Grants: $25,000 from NSERC, no company cash required”
And we’ll just have to wait to see what surprises are in store for an enhanced CHRP (Collaborative Health Research Projects):
“Key features of the enhanced CHRP program will include increased funding, a requirement for researchers to work with non-academic partners, and the possibility of special calls for proposals that focus on research in identified priority areas.”
This comes on top of the latest 3 additions to NSERC programs that require collaboration with industrial partners, and adds to the more than 20 programs supported by the Tri-council (actually minimal contribution from SSHRC).
We also hear that NSERC’s President Suzanne Fortier has indicated that three reviewers from industry will be added to the selection panel for the next cycle of Vanier Scholarships program.
Here is a –likely partial– list of business-oriented programs supported by the Tri-Council. Rough estimate for the total cost of these programs: $500-million.
- Strategic Projects Grants: The objective is to increase research and training in targeted areas that could strongly enhance Canada’s economy, society or environment within the next ten years.
- Collaborative Research and Development (CRD) Grants: To support research projects that give companies operating from a Canadian base access to the unique knowledge, expertise and educational resources available at Canadian postsecondary institutions,
- Strategic Network Grants: To increase research and training in targeted areas that could strongly enhance Canada’s economy, society and/or environment within the next ten years.
- College and Community Innovation: Increases the capacity of colleges to support innovation at the community and/or regional level.
- Automotive Partnerships: A flexible and integrated approach to project review and funding in order to build a critical mass of research in the automotive industry.
- Industrial Research Chairs: Assist universities in building on existing strengths to achieve the critical mass required for a major research endeavour in science and engineering of interest to industry.
- Ideas to Innovation: Accelerates the pre-competitive development of promising technology and promote its transfer to Canadian companies.
- Engage: Fosters the development of new research partnerships between academic researchers and companies by supporting short-term research and development projects that address a company-specific problem.
- Industrial Postgraduate Scholarships: Provides support to students to enable them to gain research experience in an industrial or other setting while undertaking their advanced studies.
- Industrial R&D Fellowships: Helps partners hire a postdoctoral researcher for a two-year period to undertake a project (or projects) of importance to the organization
- Industrial Undergraduate Student Research Awards: Helps a partnering organization hire an undergraduate-level researcher for 12-16 weeks to undertake a project of importance to the organization.
- Chairs in Design Engineering: Improve the level and quality of design engineering activity within Canadian universities, and companies improve their access to leading design groups and can influence long- and medium-term university training directions.
- Strategic Workshops: Funds workshops focused on building new collaborations between Canadian university researchers and government organizations and industry.
- Interaction: To give companies an opportunity to meet researchers from Canadian universities in order to identify a company-specific problem they could solve by collaborating in a subsequent research partnership.
- Collaborative Health Research (NSERC/CIHR): Supports focused collaborative research projects that are novel and which will lead to health benefits for Canadians, more effective health services, or economic development in health-related areas.
- Frontiers (See here).
- Create (See above).
- Collaborative Research
- Proof of Principle: To advance discoveries/inventions towards commercializable technologies, with a view to attract new investment, create new science-based businesses, organizations and initiatives, and ultimately improve health outcomes for Canadians.
- Networks of Centres of Excellence: Fosters partnerships among universities, industry, government and not-for-profit organizations.
- Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR): Provides grants to create large-scale Centres of commercialization and research expertise in priority areas where Canada has the potential to be a global leader.
- Business-led NCE: Proposed, led and managed by not-for-profit consortia representing the private sector, the BL-Networks enhance private sector innovation, deliver benefits to Canadians and encourage an Entrepreneurial Advantage.
- Industrial R&D Internship Program: It places graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from all disciplines in businesses to undertake research that addresses practical problems experienced by the host organization.
Funding cuts in disguise. (Why is the transformers jingle running through my head?)
The budget stays the same but more an more of it goes to targetted programs and less to investigator driven science.
And if research is so important to the competitiveness of industry why aren’t they required to make a contribution? Either there is something fishy about the logic of the benefit to industry or someone is getting free ride. I’m not sure industry is going to really value stuff they don’t see in their own budget discussions, either.
The only plus side is that there may be real non-academic opportunities for the PhDs coming out of our programs to address the imbalance between numbers graduating and numbers of academic positions. But that’s not much.
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NSERC’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program supports the training of students and postdoctoral fellows, specifically in settings that provide them with professional skills to complement their academic training. As such, the program’s budget comes from NSERC’s scholarships and fellowships funding envelope. No funding has been redirected from the Discovery suite of programs into the CREATE budget.
The addition of the new industrial stream to the CREATE program recognizes that more than half of all graduate students will pursue careers outside academia. Of the CREATE grants that have received funding to date, approximately one-third already include an industrial component.
The selection process for the Vanier Scholarships includes two phases, starting with an agency-specific selection committee. The NSERC Selection Committee consists of 16 members: 13 from academia, two from the government sector and one from industry ( see http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/NSERC-CRSNG/Committees-Comites/Vanier-Vanier_eng.asp for the list ). The top nominations are then reviewed by the tri-council Vanier-Banting Scholarships Selection Board. This Board has just had three new representatives appointed from the natural sciences and engineering , none of whom are from industry. The new members are John Smol of Queen’s University, Eugenia Kumacheva of the University of Toronto, and Julie Payette of the Canadian Space Agency. The majority of members of this committee are from universities. There is no intention to change this approach.
This is not an exercise in semantics. “Innovation” has been highjacked to mean any effort that is targeted towards product development, commercialization and industrial outcomes. We reserve the term “Discovery” for any investigator-driven research effort that is not directly driven by such targets.
The CREATE applicants used to have the option of having industrial ties or not. NSERC’s changes now make such ties a requirement (at least for 50% of them). This change has to be seen in the context (on top) of a proliferation of NSERC’s sponsored industrially focused programs and announcements (see rest of the blogpost).
NSERC’s uni-dimensional industry-focused message has been overwhelming as of late. There is no question that this agenda is the prerogative of the NSERC Executive, but those who believe and support basic research in this country have the right to push back with whatever limited means they have….unless you prove them wrong and re-assert your commitment to their role in the “Innovation” (Oops) agenda.
We have nothing against having adjudicators from outside the universities. It is a different story when it is reported and seen as another signal of a slippery trend towards a “non-academics know better” doctrine.
I am a young academic (grad student!) and I have been able to hold my ‘dream job’ on several occasions because of programs like CREATE. Based on my experience, it seems obvious to me that non-academics do know better about the viability of potential industrial projects.
Controversy around funding for business development is fair: it is competition for basic research. However, the research community should be careful not to become entrenched.
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