In the Liberal Party of Canada’s Budget 2018, the government of Canada announced that it would invest heavily in research, allocating a total of $6.6 billion to science and innovation. This is a $1.2 billion increase from the 2017 budget. For students at McGill, the increase in funding will allow more students to pursue research, earn federal grants, and receive compensation for their work.
According to Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau, this is the largest investment in investigator-led research in Canada’s history.
“We’ll make sure that the new money for research supports the next generation of researchers, so that we can build a science community that looks more like Canada, more diverse, and with a greater number of women,” Morneau said during his remarks following the release of the budget.
This increase in spending is based on recommendations from the Naylor Report, a document written in 2017 by a panel featuring researchers from universities all across Canada, including McGill’s Martha Crago, current vice-principal of Research and Innovation. The report mainly advocates for increases in government funding for research, and recommended a $1.3 billion increase in investigator-led research for science, given the fact that Canada’s research output has been declining since 2005.
“Canada’s performance in winning international prizes is trailing traditional powerhouses such as the U.S. and U.K.,” the Naylor Report reads. “It is also well behind Australia, which now outperforms Canada on several other measures. In recent decades, twice as many Canadians have won research-related Nobel prizes while working in the U.S. as have been awarded to Canadian-born or foreign-born scientists working in Canada.”
The report also addressed the need to attract more young people to research in Canada by eliminating funding barriers. Currently, the odds of securing a federal grant are only eight to 12 per cent for projects in health research, which discourages students from pursuing research in this field. The budget attempts to remedy this by increasing the money available to finance grants, resources, and technology available to researchers.
The new budget greatly increases allocations to fundamental research in particular, which refers to studies directed at understanding the fundamental features of observable facts without a specific application in mind.
“[Fundamental research is] basically making the foundational discoveries that allow you or others to then seek application of them,” Crago said. “It’s the basis, discovering anything in any field that is underlying [and] not done as an application that is investigator-driven. In past budgets, though there has been increases to councils, it’s always been for [specific] areas. This is whatever the investigator feels like studying and can convince through peer-review people that they have the capability and capacity to do it and do it well.”
Researchers at McGill have recently expressed concerns about the possibility of continuing to do their research in light of budget cuts, despite McGill’s strength as a research institution. The increase in budget allocation means that more researchers will have the opportunity to pursue their studies without worrying about how to finance their projects.
“I think [the increase in funding] will be very helpful because there were a lot of people because in the council who were beginning to feel really nervous about [the lack of money for this kind of research]. [….] With this injection of money, this should really help the number of people that get funded,” Crago said. “It will have an influence on students because [about 50 per cent of research grants go to] graduate students and [postdoctoral researchers], so the more grant money there is, the more money there is to attract graduate students and to pay them.”