“Researchers and science industrialists always have many hopes when it comes to announcing a new federal budget. These hopes include funding to foster partnerships, funding for basic science and funding for industrial research. This year’s federal budget fell flat on bringing many of these hopes to reality.
The 2012 budget does include some initiatives to foster partnerships: $37 million to granting councils to enhance support for industry-academic research. These types of partnerships need to be cropping up all over the country for several reasons including: 1) they serve students by honing their creative thinking and problem solving skills in both University and industry settings, 2) they train students for potential future careers in industry and 3) sharing of information between the two major players in research drives progress. This money comes with a catch though as it is not an increase in funding to granting councils but more of a reallocation of funds, as the councils will pursue operational efficiencies and reallocation of funds from lower-priority programs to create savings to put towards industry-academic research. The $37 million reallocation of funds to the enormous venture of industry-academic partnerships is just not enough and will not make Canada competitive in a global market.
$10 million over two years was also allocated to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research to link Canadians to global research networks. One of the most critical ways to put Canada at the forefront of global research is to share resources such as equipment or research space with other leading research countries. $5 million dollars a year won’t even pay the rent in the shared research space we should have let alone build research space and stock it with equipment abroad. Although putting money to link Canadians to global research networks is what Canada needs to advance, $10 million falls short of what is required.
The 2012 budget also includes significant allocation to the National Research Council, which will be used to support industry-based research. This is clearly a positive aspect of the budget, which will foster innovation only from a business perspective.
In all of this funding for partnerships and industry where does the money for basic research come in? Well there was $60 million assigned to Genome Canada to sustain Science and Technology Centers and to begin a new research competition in human health (much lower contributions than earlier years). The Canadian Foundation for Innovation will receive important funds (in 2014-2015) to be put towards research infrastructure. These are both areas that are important to Canada’s innovation and research strategy. On the other hand, Universities need to continue to hire top quality recruits, especially researchers who are homegrown. Without increased funding to granting councils such as the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) or the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), some researchers will not be able to continue to fund their labs and will be forced to shut down their research (Canadian researchers need increases to granting agencies operating grants). Where will researchers look for new jobs? They will look to other countries with good funding opportunities such as China, India or Brazil.
The biggest downfall in terms of Canadian science of this budget is the lack of focus on the importance of increase in funding to basic research. When basic research doesn’t flourish in Canada, the whole system of Canadian science, technology and innovation is at risk.”
By Janet EA Prince
President, Science & Policy Exchange
Ph.D. Candidate, Integrated Program in Neuroscience, McGill University
Comment originally published by Science Media Center.