As members of the next generation of Canadian scientists, we at the Science & Policy Exchange (SPE) and the Toronto Science Policy Network (TSPN) are excited to see the support for trainees outlined in the 2019 budget as a sign of the ongoing commitment from the federal government to train today’s youth for the jobs of tomorrow. However, this is simply one step forward on a long and winding road to better support science and the next generation of scientists in Canada.
The 2019 budget commits a $114 million investment over five years, starting in 2019-20, with $26.5 million per year ongoing, to the three federal granting councils (CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC), to create an additional 500 master’s and 167 three-year doctoral scholarship awards through the Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS). This represents two-thirds of the amount recommended in the Fundamental Science Review (FSR), and is a much needed step to better support graduate students within Canada’s research ecosystem. The budget also supports Indigenous post-secondary students through a combination of $327.5 million over five years via the Post-secondary Student Support program, $9 million towards Indspire for scholarships, and funded long-term post-secondary education strategies led by the First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
Other notable mentions in the 2019 federal budget include: an extension of parental leave for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to 12 months; an expansion of employer options beyond the STEM fields for the Student Work Placement Program; $147.9 million over five years to promote international mobility of post-secondary students, with $8 million per year ongoing; and beneficial changes to the Canada Student Loans (CSL) program, including lowering the interest rate.
The commitments made for fundamental science and the next generation of scientists in the 2018 and 2019 federal budgets contribute to establishing Canada as a research powerhouse, and are another great step forward on the trajectory set by the FSR. However, looking ahead, there is still more work to be done to better support those pursuing post-secondary education and research training in Canada.
While the 2019 budget commits funding to standard awards via CGS, the budget does not address the breakdown of ‘elite’ awards (e.g. Banting, Vanier) versus standard awards. In a survey conducted by SPE to assess the graduate and postdoctoral funding landscape in 2018-19, the majority (63%) of the 1,100 respondents were in support of either reducing or eliminating ‘elite’ awards in favour of the creation of more standard awards.
As evidenced by the SPE survey, students demand a more equitable funding system, including a reconsideration of the value of the awards and the allocation of funding across disciplines and programs. This is not only true for students, but also for post-doctoral fellows who continue their career development in the higher education system for several years after a PhD. While post-doctoral fellows represent a large and critical fraction of the Canadian research workplace, no funding was allocated to better support and develop this demographic in the 2019 budget.
Lastly, the 2019 federal budget selectively supports third-party organizations within narrow fields of research, such as Genome Canada, the Stem Cell Network, and the Terry Fox Research Institute. While we applaud the funding allocated towards such worthy and deserving organizations, there is still a pressing need for an increase in funding allocated towards fundamental, discovery-based research through open grant review competitions led by the granting councils. We hope that the Strategic Science Fund which was hinted at within the 2019 budget will fulfill this commitment, and thus promote research excellence through transparent grant competitions rather than funding specific research priorities.
As trainees and signatories of the #Students4TheReport open letter, we believe that the recommendations within the FSR should continue to act as the roadmap to restore a competitive Canadian research and education ecosystem.
Overall, in the 2018 & 2019 budgets, the federal government has made a clear investment in the next generation of Canadian scientists. As trends in Canada and across the globe demonstrate, scientists are not limited to careers in the research and education ecosystem; many pursue diverse paths and integrate into various sectors of the economy.
Keeping in mind the upcoming federal elections, we would like to emphasize that the search for evidence and scientific discovery are not and should not be partisan issues. Support for Canadian science and the next generation must reach across the aisle. We hope that science and the next generation will remain an ongoing priority for the federal government and the budgets to come.