April 10, 2017 – Ottawa – The Government of Canada has published the final report of the expert panel on Canada’s Fundamental Science Review.
Commissioned by Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, the report by the blue-ribbon panel offers a comprehensive review of the mechanisms for federal funding that supports research undertaken at academic institutions and research institutes across Canada, as well as the levels of that funding.
The report provides a multi-year blueprint for improving the oversight and governance of what the panelists call the “research ecosystem.” The report also recommends making major new investments to restore support for front-line research and strengthen the foundations of Canadian science and research at this pivotal point in global history.
“We have paid close attention not only to hard data on performance and funding but also to the many issues raised by the science community in our consultations. I sincerely hope the report will serve as a useful guide to policy-makers for years to come’.” Martha Crago, Vice-President, Research and Professor of Human Communication Disorders, Dalhousie University.
The review is the first of its type in more than 40 years. While it focused most closely on the four major federal agencies that support science and scholarly inquiry across all disciplines, the report also takes a wide-angle view of governance mechanisms ranging from smaller agencies to big science facilities.
Another issue closely examined by the panel was the effect of the current configuration of funding on the prospects of early career researchers—a group that includes a higher proportion of women and is more diverse than previous generations of scientists and scholars.
The panel’s deliberations were informed by a broad consultative process. The panel received 1,275 written submissions from individuals, associations and organizations. It also held a dozen round tables in five cities, engaging some 230 researchers at different career stages.
Among the findings:
- Basic research worldwide has led to most of the technological, medical and social advances that make our quality of life today so much better than a century ago. Canadian scientists and scholars have contributed meaningfully to these advances through the decades; however, by various measures, Canada’s research competitiveness has eroded in recent years.
- This trend emerged during a period when there was a drop of more than 30 percent in real per capita funding for independent or investigator-led research by front-line scientists and scholars in universities, colleges, institutes and research hospitals. This drop occurred as a result of caps on federal funding to the granting councils and a dramatic change in the balance of funding toward priority-driven and partnership-oriented research.
- Canada is an international outlier in that funding from federal government sources accounts for less than 25 percent of total spending on research and development in the higher education sector. While governments sometimes highlight that, relative to GDP, Canada leads the G7 in total spending by this sector, institutions themselves now underwrite 50 percent of these costs—with adverse effects on both research and education.
- Coordination and collaboration among the four key federal research agencies is suboptimal, with poor alignment of supports for different aspects of research such as infrastructure, operating costs and personnel awards. Governance and administrative practices vary inexplicably, and support for areas such as international partnerships or multidisciplinary research is uneven.
- Early career researchers are struggling in some disciplines, and Canada lacks a career-spanning strategy for supporting both research operations and staff.
- Flagship personnel programs such as the Canada Research Chairs have had the same value since 2000. Levels of funding and numbers of awards for students and post-doctoral fellows have not kept pace with inflation, peer nations or the size of applicant pools.
The report also outlines a comprehensive agenda to strengthen the foundations of Canadian extramural research. Recommended improvements in oversight include:
- legislation to create an independent National Advisory Council on Research and Innovation (NACRI) that would work closely with Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor (CSA) to raise the bar in terms of ongoing evaluations of all research programming;
- wide-ranging improvements to oversight and governance of the four agencies, including the appointment of a coordinating board chaired by the CSA; and
- lifecycle governance of national-scale research facilities as well as improved methods for overseeing and containing the growth in ad-hoc funding of smaller non-profit research entities.
Regarding funding, the panel recommends a major multi-year reinvestment in front-line research, targeting several areas of identified need. Each recommendation is bench-marked and is focused on making long-term improvements in Canada’s research capacity.
The panel’s recommendations, to be phased in over four years, would raise annual spending across the four major federal agencies and other key entities from approximately $3.5 billion today to $4.8 billion in 2022.
The goal is to ensure that Canada benefits from an outsized concentration of world-leading scientists and scholars who can make exciting discoveries and generate novel insights while educating and inspiring the next generation of researchers, innovators and leaders.
Given global competition, the current conditions in the ecosystem, the role of research in underpinning innovation and educating innovators, and the need for research to inform evidence-based policy-making, the panel concludes that this is among the highest-yield investments in Canada’s future that any government could make.
“This report outlines all the necessary ingredients to advance basic research, thereby positioning Canada as a leading ‘knowledge’ nation. Rarely does a country have such a unique opportunity to transform the research landscape and lay the foundation for a future of innovation, prosperity and well-being,” said Martha C. Piper, President Emeritus, University of British Columbia
The full report is posted on www.sciencereview.ca.