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Canada needs “ambitious research agenda”, scientists urge

Canada risks falling behind other countries unless government takes “immediate and significant action” to fund its science and research output, the federal government in Ottawa has been told.

The coalition appealed to government at an event on parliament hill on October 8. Photo: CPAC

Base budgets of federal research granting agencies need a significant increase, as do graduate scholarship and post-doctoral fellowship award amounts

Leading higher education and research organisations have come together as the Coalition for Canadian Research. Together, they are pressing the government to “show ambition” and recommit to research after two successive years without any new funding and stagnant levels of support for researchers.

In 2022, Canada spent 1.55% of GDP on research and development, which the coalition says is well behind the OECD average of 2.71%.

The US, Germany, Japan and other countries have all committed “substantial new funding” to place research at the centre of industrial visions, it added.

In an open letter, the coalition – comprising 11 leading groups such as Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, U15 Canada and Universities Canada – says now is the moment for government to make a “major investment in the federal research system”.

“In recent years, Canada has been falling behind peer countries, and we are writing to you today at a time of urgent need and mounting international competition to call for a major new investment in research to correct this decline,” the letter reads.

“Canada must respond now with an ambitious agenda for success in research that matches the ambition of our peers. Such an investment is needed to reflect the industrial efforts of our global competitors who are investing heavily in research, and to secure the top talent and international investments Canada will need for a productive and prosperous future.”

Without action, research faces brain drain of top talent, especially around early-career researchers, it adds.

“The health of the research and innovation ecosystem depends therefore on a renewal of the core funding of the federal granting councils, alongside competitive funding through graduate level scholarships and post-doctoral fellowships,” the letter to prime minister Justin Trudeau and deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland reads.

Recent research from Higher Education Strategy Associates found that consistent disinvestment by governments has led to Canadian higher education being more reliant on income from international students.

Since 2008, 100% of all new operating income in Canadian higher education has come from international tuition fees, a recent report found.

In Australia, chief executive of the Group of Eight universities Vicki Thomson – while arguing against a tax on international fee revenue – noted that this type of funding model is “distorted”.

International fee income underwriting the national university research effort is “neither acceptable nor sustainable”, she said.

In the UK, the Russell Group has voice similar concerns about higher education funding.

Despite not mentioning the over-reliance on international student fees, the group in Canada wants leaders in Ottawa to step up in a similar way.

The coalition also cites the government’s advisory panel in the Bouchard Report, which “underlined the need for a major reinvestment to maintain Canada’s research and innovation ecosystem amid high inflation and mounting international competition”.

“At a time when our competitors are doubling down on their domestic research capacity, Canada is falling behind”

Base budgets of federal research granting agencies need a significant increase, as do graduate scholarship and post-doctoral fellowship award amounts “which have remained frozen for two decades”.

“Graduate and postdoctoral researchers are busy helping the future of Canada, and the federal government needs to help them in return,” Wasiimah Joomun, executive director of Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, said.

Interim president and CEO of Universities Canada, Philip Landon, emphasised that investments in research “are key to delivering the talent we need to meet our industrial goals and solve the many challenges we face as a country”.

“Yet, at a time when our competitors are doubling down on their domestic research capacity, Canada is falling behind. Now is the time for Canada to take the urgent steps necessary to build the highly skilled workforce of the twenty-first century by investing in research,” Landon added.

Canada is “losing focus on” embracing science and research as “the way to build a globally competitive, resilient and prosperous society”, Chad Gaffield, CEO of U15, warned.

“Canada must match the ambition of our peers to advance knowledge and develop highly-qualified talent for the benefit of all on an increasingly competitive global stage.”


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