Research funding left in limbo

Federal money could be scarce for near future

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

As a “research-intensive” university, Western could be hurt by the cuts to research funding agencies in the federal government’s latest budget.

Genome Canada, as well as three national research funding agencies " including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada " provide support to many major research projects and jobs.

“The tri-council agencies are the major funding partner at Western, like at every other university,” said Gerald Kidder, professor at Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Gary Goodyear, federal minister of state for science and technology, stated last Thursday federal research money provided in the last few years was meant to last until 2013. However, the question remains whether this amount will last long enough to cover the costs of new research proposals.

Kidder is still uncertain what the effect will be, but if budgets are frozen for the next few years, he believes new grants will be hindered.

“If you freeze the funding for a number of years, what you’re doing is cutting the funding ... because the rate of inflation in research is much greater than in every day life,” he said.

Ted Hewitt, vice-president research and international relations at Western, thinks Western will have to wait and see what the impact will ultimately be.

“I think it’s a cause for some concern but we have to take into account the tremendous investments in research that the federal government has made through other programs, specifically the Canadian Foundation for Innovation,” he said.

According to current plans, CFI will receive a $750 million investment in research infrastructure.

“Funding from [CFI] will provide an immediate boost to Western’s success rate in the current competition,” Hewitt said, adding any cut will be a concern to Western’s researchers, who depend on the funds.

Trevor Lynn, communications manager at SSHRC, believes the funding cuts will not have a lasting effect and pointed out the new funding for graduate programs are included in the budget.

According to the Department of Finance Canada, the budget will include $87.5 million over three years to the three agencies to fund the Canada Graduate Scholarship program.

Kidder said funding infrastructure and scholarships may provide facilities for graduate students, but without grants he thinks they will be unable to carry out their research.

“It’s strange that there is more money for scholarships, but not for grants,” he said.

The budget cuts could also affect Canada’s role as a global leader in research. The new administration in the United States has put a priority on research, a decision which Canadian researchers are very aware of.

“The U.S. had been falling farther behind [in the past few years] and now the situation looks like it will be reversed and we might see some of the top researchers in Canada lured to the U.S.,” Kidder explained.

Hewitt said Canada needs to put more focus on research.

“We have to be seen in a leading role internationally if we are going to keep attracting world class researchers to Canada.”

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