|April 15, 2017
Canada's Fundamental Science Review – Investing in Canada’s Future – Strengthening The foundations of Canadian Research
The report was commissioned by Science Minister Kirsty Duncan in June 2016 and prepared by an independent panel led by David Naylor, the former president of the University of Toronto. The panel received over 1,200 submissions during its work and also held a dozen roundtables in five cities with 230 researchers.
Canadian accomplishments in science and scholarly inquiry have long been a source of national pride. However, by various measures, Canada’s research competitiveness has eroded in recent years when compared with international peers. The change coincided with a period of flat-lining of federal spending through the four core funding agencies that support researchers in universities, colleges, institutes, and research hospitals. In those years funds were also directed preferentially to priority-driven and partnership oriented research, reducing available support for independent, investigator-led research by frontline scientists and scholars.
The proportion of federally derived funding for research has also declined. Canada ranks well globally in higher education expenditures on research and development as a percentage of GDP, but is an outlier in that funding from federal government sources accounts for less than 25 per cent of that total, while institutions now underwrite 50 per cent of these costs with adverse effects on both research and education.
Despite high levels of talent, expertise, and dedication on the part of those serving each agency, there is evidence to suggest that the overall stewardship of the federal research ecosystem needs to be strengthened. Coordination and collaboration among the four agencies is suboptimal, with variations in governance, administrative practices, and funding priorities within and across agencies that are not explicable either by disciplinary differences or by the needs of the relevant research communities. Investments in infrastructure and related operating costs are not consistently aligned, and funding for areas such as international partnerships or multidisciplinary research is uneven. Early career researchers are struggling in some disciplines, and a career-spanning strategy for operating and personnel supports is lacking. For example, flagship personnel programs such as the Canada Research Chairs have had the same value since 2000. Levels of funding and numbers of awards for students and postdoctoral fellows have not kept pace, variously, with inflation, peer nations, or the size of the applicant pools.
This report accordingly outlines a comprehensive agenda to strengthen the foundations of Canadian extramural research. It recommends legislation to create an independent National Advisory Council on Research and Innovation (NACRI). Working closely with Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor (CSA), the new council would raise the bar in terms of ongoing evaluations of all programming. The report also recommends wide-ranging improvements to oversight and governance of the four agencies, including the appointment of a coordinating board chaired by the CSA. Other changes would promote lifecycle oversight of national-scale research facilities, and improved methods for initiating, reviewing, and renewing or terminating contribution agreements with external non-profit entities operating in the research realm.
Concurrent with these improvements designed to augment the effectiveness, accountability, and efficiency of various elements of the system, significant reinvestment is required. This reinvestment should be undertaken on a multi-year basis, coupling predictability with better planning. Targeted increases are recommended based on benchmarking, contingent in several cases on presentation and approval of multi-agency plans for improvements to programs. New spending would be balanced across:
- investigator-led research operating grants (the highest priority)
- enhanced personnel supports for researchers and trainees at different career stages
- targeted spending on infrastructure-related operating costs for small equipment and Big Science facilities;
- and enhancement of the environment for science and scholarship by improved coverage of the institutional costs of research.
The cumulative base increase would move annual spending in steady-state across the four agencies and closely related entities from approximately $3.5 billion to $4.8 billion. This phased-in increase requires dedicating an additional 0.4 per cent of the Government of Canada’s annual budget to an area of shared jurisdiction where federal leadership is essential and welcomed. Given global competition, the current conditions in the ecosystem, the role of research in underpinning innovation and educating innovators, and the need for research to inform evidence-based policy-making, it is also among the highest-yield investments in Canada’s future that any government could make.
For the complete report please visit: http://www.sciencereview.ca/eic/site/059.nsf/eng/home