WOLFVILLE (CUP) ? The federal government moved to improve the state of graduate studies and research in Canada as the Minister of Finance announced his new budget on February 26.
On top of a $25 million investment over two years to establish a new set of new graduate scholarships, the government also added $15 million per year for the Indirect Costs of Research program, $21 million over two years to establish up to 20 Canada Research Chairs, and some additional funding for the government’s research councils.
This investment is reflective of fierce competition as other countries invest in research and attract top-level scholars. Canada, meanwhile, has been lagging in graduating Master’s and PhD students.
Indeed, a recent report from the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) revealed that, in 2004, the United States awarded 30 per cent more doctoral degrees per capita than Canada.
Although the focus on research and graduate programs is largely welcomed, it has been met with some criticism.
Claire Morris, president of the AUCC, said that [while] the establishment of Vanier Scholarships for graduate work was an important step, the AUCC had suggested the creation of 6,500 new scholarships for both Canadian and international students. The budget announcement will only allow for 500 this year on top of the 1,000 that were created last year.
?There still is some road to travel,? Morris said.
Aside from the Vanier Scholarships, the government also announced additional funding for its three granting programs: SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR.
Mike Savage, the Liberal Human Resources Critic, said that the $80 million slotted for the programs is ?just not enough to bring the programs up to par.?
Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), also raised concerns with the targeted nature of the funding.
?We appreciate the new research funding, but we’re extremely concerned that the federal government is increasingly targeting research funding rather than allowing the priorities to be established by the research community,? he says.
The money for SSHRC, for example, has to be spent in part on research on economic development in northern resources, and money for NSERC can only be spent on the automotive, forestry, or fishing industries.
?What we know from 50 years of research is that no one is very good at predicting what research is going to be of value theoretically, or to Canadians, or commercially. And so what’s worked the best has been to let scientists fund bright, competent scientists and let them pursue the research that they think is important,? he said.
Graham Cox, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students? Graduate Caucus, expressed similar concerns.
?The problem is It’s a bit of an unbalanced program the way they’re implementing it. The vast majority of students are in the social sciences and humanities, whereas most of these monies are going to health and science researchers.?
The additional $15 million for the AUCC’s Indirect Costs of Research Program has also been criticized for falling short of what is needed.
The program reimburses universities for any costs that they incur from providing the necessary institutional support to carry out research.
Although Morris noted that their aim is to achieve a 40 per cent reimbursement rate, the additional $15 million barely allows the program to maintain its current level of reimbursement, at approximately 25 per cent.
However, Morris does point to the additional money for Canada Global Excellence Research Chairs as a positive investment. The Chairs so far, Morris said, have been ?very successful to keep Canadian scholars at home, and to attract international scholars.?
Overall, Morris said that, while the government appears to be heading in the right direction by making this investment into research and graduate studies, ?we would like to see some more speed in that direction.?
Savage seconded that opinion, commenting that while the budget indicates a small step in the right direction, research is not something that you can start and stop investing in.
?The need is very high,? he says. ?Although there is more in this budget than we’ve seen before from this government, it is important to keep the momentum going.?