On the heels of the cheery press releases of the presidents of NSERC and CIHR regarding the 2012 federal budget, announcements about the fate of various programs are now coming out. They all start with, “As part of the Government of Canada’s efforts to return to balanced budgets, NSERC’s … Program will not be accepting new applications.” These –less cheery– measures illustrate the true impact of the budget decisions on the Tri-council. They could explain the silence of SSHRC’s president on their implications for his council, which is somewhat appreciated. The jubilant media releases from various university administrators are not. But their constituents are starting to show signs of life. Last week, I was forwarded the following letter, which is being signed by the leaders of various research facilities and labs. We are told that the “letter will also be sent to appropriate members of government and members of parliament.” It wouldn’t hurt if it also lands on the desks of Canada’s university presidents and VP-Rs.
Here are some excerpts from the (draft) letter, which also comes with an appendix that points to the various research projects affected by the cancellation of the Major Resources Support (MRS) program. Even more projects will be touched by the cancellation of the Research Tools and Instrument (RTI) program. As I said before, it seems that the NSERC leadership is trying its best to soften the blow, hoping that the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) will pick up the tab, at least for the experimental facilities. Still, letters and petitions such as this one can only help. After all, people in positions of power need to know the impact of their decision-making, even when negative. They need to want to know about the dreams, aspirations and priorities of their constituents, and not simply hear the unwarranted cheerleading of those who can’t do otherwise. (See also the illuminating comment of John Stockie below).
Here is the final version of the letter and the signatories.
April 26, 2012
Re: NSERC MRS and RTI programs
To: Dr. Suzanne Fortier and the members of NSERC Council
… We are writing to express our deep concern over the elimination of the Major Resources Support (MRS) and Research Tools and Instrument (RTI) programs of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). The cutting of these programs will have drastic and potentially irreversible effects on fundamental science and engineering research across Canada.
Quoting from NSERC itself, “the objective of the MRS program is to facilitate the effective access by Canadian academic researchers to major and unique national or international (based in Canada) experimental or thematic research resources by financially assisting these resources to remain in a state of readiness for researchers to use.”
Quoting from NSERC itself, “Research Tools and Instruments (RTI) grants foster and enhance the discovery, innovation and training capability of university researchers in the natural sciences and engineering by supporting the purchase of research equipment and installations.”
These are programs so essential to research in Canada that, prior to hearing of their termination, to think they would even be considered for elimination was inconceivable. The federal government, through cuts to NSERC, has now slashed these programs. Along with NSERC’s Discovery Grant, the RTI and the MRS programs are those which support fundamental research. The loss of the RTI and MRS programs means there are now no NSERC funding streams dedicated to the purchase of scientific equipment or to operate nationally and internationally unique resources. The loss of the MRS program in particular means that millions of dollars of equipment purchased through taxpayers’ money is as the risk of sitting idle and gathering dust due to a lack of operating funds. A list of projects funded through the MRS program in 2010-2011 is provided as an appendix to this letter.
NSERC suggests that the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) may pick up the slack in these two areas. However, the reality is that CFI is a different organization with different objectives. CFI programs do not compensate for the loss of two core programs at NSERC.
Similarly, investments by the government in industrial and/or targeted research programs at NSERC do not compensate for the loss of the two core programs which enable fundamental research. Action must be taken to reinstate the core RTI and MRS programs at NSERC. The loss of these programs is nothing short of a disaster for science in Canada.
This letter will also be sent to appropriate members of government and members of parliament.
Appendix: List of MRS-funded projects (2010-2011).
- Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences (Ontario)
- Laboratory for the analysis of natural and synthetic environmental toxicants (Ontario)
- National ultrahigh-field NMR facility for solids (Ontario)
- Hatch lab: isotope and noble gas geochemistry for earth and environmental sciences (Ontario)
- IsoTrace AMS facility (Ontario)
- Canadian Phycological Culture Centre: a facility supporting research on algae and cyanobacteria (Ontario)
- Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) (Ontario)
- Canadian resource center for zebrafish genetics (Ontario)
- A neuroendocrinology assay laboratory at the University of Western Ontario (Ontario)
- Canadian centre for DNA barcoding (Ontario)
- Portable Observatories for Lithospheric Analysis and Research Investigating (POLARIS) (Ontario)
- Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics/Institut Canadian d’astrophysique theorique (Ontario)
- Brockhouse institute for materials research (Ontario)
- St. John’s centrifuge modelling facility (Ontario)
- Canadian participation in the integrated ocean drilling program (Quebec)
- The canadian research icebreaker Amundsen: a national resource with an international mandate (Quebec)
- Canadian participation in the international continental drilling program (Quebec)
- Quebec/Eastern Canada high field NMR facility (Quebec)
- Félix d’Hérelle reference center for bacterial viruses (Quebec)
- CRM’s major 5-year plan: Investing in people and intellectual capacities, supporting cutting edge mathematical research, exceptional new opportunities, partnerships and synergies (Quebec)
- Canadian neutron beam laboratory (Quebec)
- The Compute/Calcul Canada (CC) (Quebec)
- Access to the national advanced laser light source (ALLS) facility (Quebec)
- Station de recherche de Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik (Quebec)
- Kluane Lake Research Station (Alberta)
- Nanofabrication facility support (Alberta)
- NANUC: a national facility for high field NMR resource for applications in chemistry (Alberta)
- Infrastructure support for the Canadian Center for Innovative Geochronology (Alberta)
- Resource for the Innovation of Engineering Materials (Alberta)
- Biogeoscience Institute (Alberta)
- University of Alberta microfungus collection and herbarium (UAMH) (Alberta)
- The Banff International Research Station
- Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (British Columbia)
- Bamfield marine sciences centre (British Columbia)
- PNCSRF Pacific Northwest Consortium Synchrotron Radiation Facility (British Columbia)
- Access to the Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility (British Columbia)
- Centre for molecular and materials science at TRIUMF (British Columbia)
- Pacific centre for isotopic and geochemical research (British Columbia)
- Canadian cosmogenic nuclide exposure dating facility (Nova Scotia)
- Major resources support for the aquatron laboratory (Nova Scotia)
- Atlantic Regional Facilities for Materials Characterization (Nova Scotia)
- Canadian light source inc. (Saskatchewan)
- Canadian Light Source Inc. – Additional Support (Saskatchewan)
- The Canadian SuperDARN/PolarDARN facility (Saskatchewan)