Universities eye federal budget for research money as competition for talent intensifies

OTTAWA — Post-secondary schools and students are looking to the Liberals to make a down payment in the post-pandemic economy by boosting research spending in the federal budget coming this week.

OTTAWA — Post-secondary schools and students are looking to the Liberals to make a down payment in the post-pandemic economy by boosting research spending in the federal budget coming this week.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will present the government’s next budget plan on April 7.

Universities Canada President Paul Davidson expects to include some of the research spending pledges made in last fall’s election, including funding for 1,000 new Canada Research Chairs and millions of dollars more each year for cutting edge research and “moonshot”.

Davidson said delivering on those promises could keep a cohort of researchers in Canada over the next decade rather than being caught up in the global competition for talent that has intensified during the pandemic.

It would also prevent Canada from falling behind peer countries like the United States and the United Kingdom that have made research funding a mainstay of their post-pandemic growth plans, he said.

“It’s not just about immediate relief,” he said. “We’re building a research ecosystem that supports Canada’s innovation agenda, that supports our economic growth agenda, and that’s why we’re looking for investment.

It’s been five years since a Liberal-appointed science advisory committee released a report showing how to increase funding for research and development that, in the country, had been slowly declining over the previous 15 years.

Multiple submissions on research funding have been made to the House of Commons Finance Committee during its pre-budget consultations, collectively requesting billions in new spending for fellowships, postdoctoral fellowships and granting agencies.

In its final report released in mid-March, the committee recommended $120 million more on a recurring basis for scholarships, $40 million more per year to expand college research capacity and expand publicly funded intellectual property to maximize the benefits of COVID-related research. .

Denise Amyot, president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada, said industries and institutions need help to more easily commercialize research. She also said the funding pool should be separated for universities and for colleges to recognize that there is a difference in their research focus.

“If we’re serious about competitiveness, if we’re serious about productivity, we need a specific fund for our colleges and universities to commercialize cutting-edge research,” she said.

Davidson also said he expects the government to invest money in cybersecurity for researchers.

But the pressure to get all that spending done now has waned since the Liberals struck a deal with the NDP to win support in key votes, including the budget, in exchange for NDP priorities like pharmacare. and dental care.

The deal is designed to keep the minority Liberal government in power until 2025, giving the government a longer track than expected to deliver on its election promises.

Davidson said the government could therefore use this budget to launch a longer-term research plan, but spread out the spending over subsequent years.

A longer deadline should give the government an opportunity to consider what areas of research the country should focus on and the professional training needed to achieve this over the next 10 to 15 years, said Elliot Hughes, who was an adviser. of former finance minister Bill Morneau. .

“Before we rush off saying we’re going to do ‘research’, let’s try to tie that into a broader economic and skills training strategy so that there’s some consistency, alignment across all of those things,” he said. said Hughes, now a senior adviser at Summa Strategies.

“It takes time, and it takes focus, and it takes effort from a wide range of ministers and their commitment.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 4, 2022.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous erroneous version of this report was first published on April 2, 2022.

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