University research income shows small increase while colleges see 21 per cent boost, Research Infosource finds

Mark Lowey
February 2, 2022

Research income at Canada’s top 50 research universities grew to $8.3 billion in the 2020 fiscal year, an increase of three per cent over the previous year, according to this year’s annual ranking in a report from Research Infosource Inc.

While research universities' research income showed a modest increase, that of the top research colleges in Canada jumped by 20.8 per cent, according to a separate report by Research Infosource.

Research income increased at 31 universities and declined at 19 others, according to the report, Canada’s Top 50 Research Universities.

The top five universities, based on sponsored research income generated in the 2020 fiscal year, were the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, McGill University, Université de Montréal and the University of Calgary.

The fiscal year for universities and colleges differs depending on the institution, but it is typically a 12-month period from April 1 through March 31 or May 1 through April 30.

UCalgary ranked in the top five for the first time and it is the youngest university to have reached the top five. UCalgary has since reported that its sponsored research income in 2021 totalled $504 million, a 10.3-per-cent increase over 2020.

UCalgary also has the fastest growth rate in attracting research funding among the 10 largest universities in Canada.

“The University of Calgary is performing in the ranks of much larger, more established institutions who inspire us to continue our pursuit of research excellence,” Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research), said in a statement.

Average research intensity — a term for the research income per faculty position — among the top 40 universities was $202,900 in the 2020 fiscal year, a modest increase of 2.1 percent.

Graduate student intensity, or the research income per graduate student, was $39,000, a slight decline from the previous year.

The University of Toronto again led the “Medical” tier and the national university rankings, with $1.23 billion of research income in the 2020 fiscal year, up 13.3 per cent.

The University of Waterloo showed a decline of 12.1 per cent with its research income of $211.2 million. Nevertheless, it retained the top spot among “Comprehensive” universities.

Laurentian University ($37.8 million, down 4.1 per cent) led the “Undergraduate” tier.

“Fiscal 2020 university research income growth was somewhat muted,” Ron Freedman, CEO of Research Infosource, said in a statement.

“Compared with gains of 5.7 percent, 3.6 percent and 6.8 percent respectively over the previous three years, the FY 2020 result could best be seen as treading water."

The result was mainly due to a 3.9-per-cent drop in provincial government funding, coupled with a 3.9-per-cent drop in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and weak foreign and individual research support, according to Research Infosource.

On the positive side, research funding rose considerably at some agencies, including at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (10.9 per cent), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (10.2 per cent) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (8.2 per cent).

Funding from corporate sources also expanded by 6.7 per cent in the 2020 fiscal year.

22 universities with research income over $100 million

The University of Toronto (Medical tier) topped the rankings for faculty research intensity, with $446,600 of research income per faculty. U of T also reported the highest corporate research income among its medical peers at $141.2 million.

University of Waterloo led the Comprehensive category for corporate research income with $31.4 million. Université du Québec à Chicoutimi led the Undergraduate tier for corporate research income, with $7.6 million.

Twenty-two universities gained membership in Research Infosource’s “100 Million Club,” reporting research income in excess of $100 million each.

New to the Club was Ryerson University, which posted research income of $105.6 million in 2020.

Club members had a combined research income gain of 4.2 per cent, slightly above the national level, and representing 90 per cent of the total.

Research Infosource designated three institutions as “Research Universities of the Year 2021” — achieving superior performance on key measures of research success — in their respective tiers: University of Toronto (Medical), University of Waterloo (Comprehensive) and Université du Québec à Rimouski (Undergraduate).

To recognize its 20th anniversary, Research Infosource also identified its top leaders during two decades of university research progress, as measured by research income growth from fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year 2020, and publications growth from fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2019 at full-service universities.

“Outstanding year” for college research income

While universities had a marginal increase in sponsored research income, Canada’s top 50 research colleges reported a total of $270.9 million in the 2020 fiscal year. It was a 20.8 percent increase from the previous fiscal year, according to a separate annual report, Canada’s Top 50 Research Colleges, by Research Infosource.

Cégep de Trois Rivières headed the list with $19.5 million of research income, followed by Humber College ($15.0 million) and Niagara College ($13.9 million). Lambton College ($12.5 million) and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology ($12.3 million) rounded out the top five.

Overall, research income increased at 39 colleges and declined at 11 others.

It was an “outstanding year” for college research income, Freedman said.

“An unprecedented number of institutions — 32 — reported triple- or double-digit increases in their research income, which is reflected in the large overall total research colleges gain," he said.

Federal government sources accounted for 35 per cent ($94.3 million) of total funding, while industry sources contributed another 32 per cent ($86.8 million). Provincial governments added 24 per cent ($64.4 million) to the total.

According to Research Infosource’s report, colleges completed a total of 3,655 research projects in fiscal year 2020 and engaged in 4,847 research partnerships with outside organizations, including companies, governments and not-for-profit organizations. They engaged 3,784 students to work on paid research projects.


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