Major research facilities receive $160-million top up as CFI increases support for operations and maintenance

Mark Henderson
May 15, 2019

Canada’s major science facilities are receiving a significant funding top-up to cover more back end research costs like operations and maintenance (O&M) – a longstanding grievance among research organizations.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) decision to increase its support for Major Science Initiatives (MSI) from 40% to 60% means an additional $40 million this year for seven facilities, ranging from $11.6 million for the University of Saskatchewan-based Canadian Light Source to $1.9 million for the same institution’s VIDO-InterVac centre for vaccine and infectious disease (see chart).

The total increase over the next five years will be $160 million, and disbursement will depend on each facility’s mid-term or full reviews. The MSIs have until June 19 to submit their documentation to CFI.

“MSI gives researchers access to advanced, specialized equipment. This is what you need to conduct research today,” says Pierre Normand, CFI’s VP External Relations and Communications. “It’s really expensive to provide all this but if you don’t support the operations that provide these services you’re missing opportunities.”

The idea of increasing CFI’s share of O&M support received significant support in 2017 from the Fundamental Science Review (FSR) which offered the following rationale: “We recommend shifting from 40:60 sharing to 60:40 for MRFs (major research facilities), the largest MSIs. This will relieve the pressure they face when attempting to secure matching funds, but also satisfy the need for creating strong partnerships with provinces and institutions.”

Even before the FSR, the CFI had advocated for a Big Science Roadmap. That followed work of the former National Science Advisor who examined the issue in 2007, the same year that the granting councils, CFI and the National Research Council collaborated on a position paper outlining the various problems inherent in the current funding environment.

The CFI funding boost delivered by the 2018 Budget is intended to optimize the scientific and technical performance of the MSIs, given their complexity, national scope and the pressure provincial governments in their jurisdictions face when asked to provide support for facilities with a national presence.

For some organizations, the cash infusion comes not a moment too soon. For the Canadian National Design Network (CNDN) at Queen’s University, the funding increase is being credited with helping CMC Microsystems to avoid closure. CMC was thrown into a financial quandary when the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) announced its decision to phase out its 30-year-long history of support. The not-for-profit has spent the last three years seeking new sources of support. The MSI increase provides the CNDN with $5.3 million, comprising nearly half of CMC’s $11-million annual budget.

Through the CNDN, CMC provides services for developing micro-nano products and services that are made available to more than 10,000 academic and industry researchers, helping Canada to capitalize on a boom in the fields of microelectronics and photonics.

“At least it’s part of the puzzle … We’ve been going after each of the provinces as well as industry for sponsor-directed research, doing industrial contracts to develop a product or service for a specific company. We’re putting that out on social media and on our webpage,” says CMC President and CEO Gordon Harling. “It’s a transformation, a new business plan and a new business model. It’s a very exciting time and we’ve had wonderful response both with researchers and with industry.”

Operating Funding Increases to Major Science Facilities

Major Science Facility($ millions) Host Institution        CFI Increase
Canadian Light Source University of Saskatchewan 11.6
Ocean Networks Canada University of Victoria 7.3
SNOLAB Queen’s University 7.0
Canada’s National design Network Queen’s University 5.3
CCGS Amundsen Laval University 4.5
Ocean Tracking Network Dalhousie University 2.3
VIDO-Intervac University of Saskatchewan 1.9
Total                             39.8



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