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Federal budget strengthens university research with new funding

Universities are pleased and grateful for research commitments.

By PEGGY BERKOWITZ | FEB 12 2014

University research was a big winner in a federal budget that kept its promise to offer modest spending increases overall at a time of restrained economic growth for Canada.

The $1.5 billion awarded to a new research excellence fund over 10 years is the centrepiece of several research funding commitments in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2014 budget, tabled in Parliament Feb. 11. The budget also raised the base budgets of the three major federal research granting councils by $37 million, mainly for untargeted research, and gave a $9-million boost to the program that contributes to universities’ indirect costs of doing research.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada deemed each of these actions a priority for Canada’s universities leading into the budget.

“We are extremely pleased that the federal government continues to recognize the pivotal role that universities play in driving Canada’s innovation agenda, and this investment demonstrates the confidence that the federal government has in universities’ ability to find solutions to challenges both at home and abroad,” said David Barnard, president of the University of Manitoba and chair of AUCC. “We are partners for prosperity.”

Several university presidents, as well as AUCC, linked the investment in university research to the historic $1.9 billion the government announced a few days ago to overhaul the K-12 education system for First Nations students. That commitment was reiterated in the budget.

“Presidents of universities and colleges can play an important role in building bridges and creating conditions that allow for a new and better relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples,” said Dr. Barnard.

The new Canada First Research Excellence Fund will start slowly, with $50 million to be awarded in 2015-16, gradually rising to $200 million a year in 2018-19. The program is designed to help universities “leverage their key strengths into world-leading capabilities.” Details are to be announced later this year. If it follows the proposal for such a fund put forward jointly by AUCC and the U-15 group of research-intensive universities, funding would be allocated based on universities’ achievement record in peer-reviewed competitions run by the granting councils.

Specific items of interest to universities, faculty, researchers and students include:

  • Reallocating $40 million from the Youth Employment Strategy fund to create up to 3,000 internships for postsecondary graduates in “high-demand fields” for the next two years, under three separate programs;
  • $8 million over two years to the Mitacs Elevate program for postdoctoral fellows to get research experience in industry
  • New this year, federal funding for Mitacs will be made available to eligible not-for-profit groups with an economic orientation, which would make fellowships available to postdocs in SSHRC disciplines;
  • Additional $40 million to the Canada Accelerator and Incubator programs that were launched last year (the recipients for 2013 funding haven’t been announced yet) to help organizations provide business development services to businesses and entrepreneurs;
  • $222 million over five years for the TRIUMF physics laboratory in B.C.;
  • $15 million over three years for the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo;
  • $3 million over three years to establish an Open Data Institute in Waterloo;
  • Eliminating the value of vehicles owned or leased by students from the eligibility assessment for the Canada Student Loans program, to reflect the needs of students who commute to school or work.
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