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Research Investment Is An Investment In Canada’s Future

Atlantic Canada’s university leaders strongly support the recently released report of the Advisory Panel on Federal Support for Fundamental Science, Investing in Canada’s Future: Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research. It is comprehensive in scope and many of its recommendations reflect the point of view that the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) presented to the Advisory Panel during its national consultations.

Our universities applaud the panel’s primary recommendation that annual federal spending across its four main research funding agencies be increased from approximately $3.5 billion to $4.8 billion (and maintain a rebalancing of federal research funding towards investigator-driven research projects across the full diversity of disciplines and areas). Our universities strongly support the idea that fundamental scientific research in Canada must be a level playing field for awarding funding to universities, regardless of their size.

There is a strong emphasis in the report on supporting early career researchers, as well as recognition for early-to-mid-career researchers who frequently face many obstacles in the current funding system.

In her recent address to Presidents at Universities Canada’s annual spring meeting, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, a former associate professor of health studies, emphasized the “great potential of early career researchers” but also the “critical need to take action” on their behalf.

The panel’s recommendation to better co-ordinate efforts, processes and programming across the major federal funding agencies aligns with our universities’ commitment to inter-institutional R&D collaboration, locally, nationally and internationally to fully leverage the diversity and vitality of the research ecosystem in our region. Our commitment to collaboration and co-ordination is best demonstrated by Springboard Atlantic, a university-led research commercialization network.

The AAU also agrees with the report’s emphasis on the importance of diversity and greater equity in the federal funding of research with appropriate focus on the important issues of gender and career stage diversity and equity in research funding.

It also raised the need for much greater attention to Indigenous research. Our universities, many located in rural communities with longstanding relationships to indigenous and First Nations peoples, are well positioned to uphold the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations on research. The Atlantic Aboriginal Economic Development Integrated Research Program is a unique partnership between the 37 member communities of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat, the Inuit of Labrador, 12 Atlantic Canadian universities, and federal and provincial government funders. Its core purpose is to improve the knowledge base of Atlantic aboriginal economic development to improve the lives of Aboriginal Peoples in the region.

The report also raised concerns about the unconscious bias in peer review (a concern to smaller universities), and recommends steps to address this issue.

The report could have better articulated that research excellence is found in universities of all sizes — an important principle for the AAU. Our universities strongly support the idea that fundamental scientific research in Canada must be a level playing field for awarding funding to universities, regardless of their size.

Our universities are also pleased with the panel’s conclusion that “the recent erosion of Canada’s research competitiveness… has been exacerbated by a policy shift in favour of new programs that focus resources on a limited number of individuals and institutions.”

We agree with the panel’s suggestion that these types of programs should be reviewed to ensure value for money. The report calls for a much stronger return to smaller, curiosity-driven research that does not require large matching fund commitments or extensive partnerships, which has historically disadvantaged our region.

In summary, our universities believe that if the government can take the steps to implement these recommendations, the R&D enterprise at all Atlantic Canada’s universities and the research ecosystem in our region will benefit. It is essential that our universities secure regional, national and international industrial and government agency support for research that leads to commercialization opportunities, innovation, economic growth and social development across the region.

Atlantic Canada’s universities look forward to working with the Government of Canada as it acts upon recommendations from the report to improve the fundamental research enterprise in universities of all sizes and in all corners of Canada.

Peter Halpin,
Association of Atlantic Universities Halifax

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