Research community feels vindicated by historic science investment

Veronica Silva
March 6, 2018

But more tasks ahead

A concerted effort by the research community is being credited with the largest increase in support for fundamental research in history. Stakeholders can pat themselves on the back for lobbying efforts in support of Canada’s Fundamental Science Review (or Naylor report) whose recommendations were a major driver behind the federal Budget handed down February 27.

The Naylor report commissioned by the government last year recommended budgetary and non-budgetary interventions to boost research and innovation to ensure that Canada is at least at par with G7 colleagues. While some of the recommendations were addressed by the Liberals piecemeal after the report was released in April 2017, the research community had to hold their collective breath until the 2018 Budget announcement.

Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, tells RE$EARCH MONEY that the whole cycle leading up to Budget 2018 got the support of the entire research ecosystem – from faculty to students, early career and senior scientists and researchers, and institutions of all kinds. “It’s been an exceptionally united effort and it paid dividends,” he says.

Part of the credit also goes to the federal government for commissioning the Naylor review, says Davidson and Dr Martha Crago, VP research and innovation at McGill Univ and a member of the Naylor panel. Crago says government opened the doors to dialogue when it commissioned the panel review, and she’s optimistic that the conversation can and will continue.

Davidson says the community’s concerted campaign behind the Naylor report showed the government that the research ecosystem is united. This unison was even referenced in the Budget where it was stated that “the Government has heard the strong and united message from Canada’s research community on the importance of investing in the future of Canadian research.” He adds that the campaign has built communities of people and organizations that hadn’t normally engaged in dialogues.

Student groups, such as Science & Policy Exchange (SPE) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), also lobbied behind the Naylor report, with SPE running an open-letter campaign last year. The open letter was signed by more than 1,200 students and researchers across Canada and endorsed by student unions and associations.

CFS national treasurer Peyton Veitch tells R$ that while the commitments in Budget 2018 did not equal the financial investments recommended in the Naylor report, it was still a significant step in the right direction and an important victory for the research community. He says the Naylor report and support for it was in the interest of CFS because their membership includes graduate students that rely on granting council funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Crago says that while Budget 2018 did not address all of the Naylor panel’s recommendations, there were also other items in the Budget that were covered in more breadth than in the report.

For example, Budget 2018 commits $925 million for five years for the three granting councils, compared to the Naylor report's $1.3 billion over four years. Nevertheless, Crago notes the “very sizable” initial investment of $115 million in FY18-19 - ramping up to $235 million by FY22-23 - in the three granting councils, additional support for early career scientists and researchers and a strong focus on Indigenous researchers. She highlights the permanent and stable funding for the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and funding for the digital research infrastructure (DRI), which were more than what the Naylor report recommends.

In Budget 2018, CFI is getting up to $763 million for five years or up to FY 2022-23. Beyond that, starting FY2023-24, Budget 2018 sets permanent funding for CFI at $462 million per year. Recommendation 6.8 of the Naylor report calls on the government to provide CFI with a “stable annual budget” estimated at $300 million per year in A-base funding (page 129).

“This (funding) will really help them (CFI) have a steadier base of funding. That, to me, is very, very helpful because they sit precariously, budget-wise, almost all the time,” says Crago.

She also notes the “much-needed” investment for the newly announced digital research infrastructure (DRI) strategy which has been earmarked for $572.5 million over five years in Budget 2018. The Naylor report recommends the merger of Compute Canada and CANARIE, two federally funded digital networks, and long-term funding, channeled through the CFI and leading up to the national DRI strategy. Crago says the considerable amount of multi-year funding for DRI is important because the way research projects are being done these days requires digital capacity, storage, curation and analysis.

Crago says there are still recommendations in the Naylor report that need to be addressed in future budgets, but the fact that the federal government continued to dialogue with the ecosystem continuously for 10 months after the report's release means the government is open to further discussion. “I think the door is still open for continued talk and dialogue. What was expressed to me was keep coming back to us if you see opportunities or notable gaps. So, I think going forward, the dialogue will continue and the listening will continue,” she says.

Veitch says students “will continue to advocate for aspects in the Naylor report that weren’t fully implemented in this Budget, and it’s something to build upon.”

In a statement, SPE expressed optimism that future budgets will provide more support for additional student grants and fellowships as it was expressed in the Budget that “over the next year, the Government will be doing further work to determine how to better support students, the next generation of researchers, through scholarships and fellowships.”

Davidson says the Naylor report provides a clear roadmap for fundamental research and from the way Budget 2018 was penned, the report could play a similar function in future budgets. “That’s an important message for us in the research community,” he adds. “It’s not like let’s check the box and move on. There’s unfinished business in the Naylor report.”


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