Researchers wary over cuts to councils

Turk: Canada will lose top scientists

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Though the American stimulus package and federal budget emphasize the importance of research and development, budgets for granting councils in Canada have been scaled back five per cent, eliminating nearly $147 million towards research by 2011-12.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada are coping with extreme financial shortfalls following January’s federal budget.

SSHRC is making way for a reduction of $8.2 million over the next three years by eliminating the Research Time Stipends program and $5.6 million from health-related research.

CIHR has been forced to abolish the Open Team Grant Program and the Intellectual Property Mobilization program in order to find $40 million in its budget.

NSERC has also eliminated a variety of its programming to find another $70 million over three years, including University Faculty Awards and the Special Research Opportunity program.

According to Jim Turk, president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the biggest detriment lies not so much in what is being taken away from research councils as what is no longer being given to them.

“The first effect is in fact not the budget cuts themselves, but the fact that there is no new research money in the federal budget,” Turk said.

“In Canada the fact that there is no new money is going to have disastrous effects, because a lot of the top scientists in this country are going to have to go to the [United States].”

According to Turk, the damage is not only in what is being reduced in Canada, but by comparison what is being given to American researchers. If researchers in the United States are too highly funded by comparison, Canada is likely to lose its top researchers.

“To get anywhere close to what the Americans are doing on a proportion basis, they would need $1 billion for our granting councils over the next two years,” Turk said. “There was not a dime, in fact $147.9 million, has to be reallocated.”

Though the budget cuts will most heavily affect researchers, graduate students might also be at a loss.

“The reduced budget will have an effect on graduate student in so much as it will affect the operating grants of supervisors and many supervisors provide funding for their graduate students through their operating grant,” Linda Miller, vice-provost for Western’s School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, said.

“The impact probably won’t be immediate, but what it will mean is that we will have to put together student funding packages relying more heavily on other sources such as scholarships and teaching assistantships.”

While students will not be heavily impacted by the cuts made to their granting councils, Turk argued the cut backs will be harmful for the growth of the country as a whole.

“From the economic standpoint it makes more sense to put more money into research and the American government understands that. The ability to research in this country is going to be harmed by a government that just doesn’t get it,” he argued.

He added expenditures made today could prove to be of no use without sustained research funding.

“[The Canadian government doesn’t] get the importance of long term research. They put $2 billion into university infrastructure, but if you don’t have the funds to do the research you can’t do anything with it.

“As one of the top researchers in the country told me, we’ve finally got all this new equipment but by the time you take the plastic wrapping off there will be nobody there to use it.”

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