Western lagging, but pushing for research funding

With close to $220 million in total research funding this past year, there is still plenty of room for Western to improve on a number of fronts, said Janice Deakin, provost and vice-president (academic) and acting vice-president (research).

Deakin told Senate March 23 “we are not where we need to be or aspire to be” when it comes to with the university’s current standing with Tri-Council funding, made up of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Western currently sits 10th in the G13 and fourth in Ontario. Deakin’s goal is to move within the Top 5 nationally and second within the province. Western’s provincial ranking in Canadian Foundation for Innovation funding is also fourth, which she would like to see improve as well.

With 44 per cent of the university’s overall funding coming from the tri-council, another 44 per cent from other sources such as industry, foundations and corporations, and the remaining 12 per cent from provincial sources, Deakin said Western needs to look at ways to better shine the light on its specific research strengths since “we are not gaining on our competition at this moment in time.”

“We have a strong reliance on CIHR funding, which accounts for almost half of all Western’s tri-council funding – the highest in the G13,” said Deakin, noting the university’s tri-council funding is not evenly distributed. Of the 1,082 tri-council eligible faculty members at Western, more than half are SSHRC eligible – which offers the least funding dollars of the three councils.

Increasing the number of faculty receiving some form of tri-council funding also needs to be addressed. Over the last 10 years, 1 per cent of Western’s tri-council recipients held 13 per cent of the university’s tri-council budget.

“I think we need to look at this seriously and solve it from within,” Deakin said. “We need to nurture our research environment; we need to be competitive in the research funding opportunities; and we need to attract the best and the brightest researchers. To do that, we need to develop and action plan and foster a strategic search within our faculties.”

The need to look at the current research structure and reporting lines, central infrastructure support and the planned hiring of a new vice-president (research) are all areas in which Western will be focusing on going forward.

Basically, there has to be better ways to do things, with the ability to change course when necessary.

“Government funding programs are changing and we need to be able to be flexible,” Deakin said. “To have intercollaborative work, other partnerships with industry, foundations and with governments – both national and international – and to try and reduce our dependence on tri-council, who may face up to a 10 per cent cut in the next federal budget. But in the interim we can’t stand still.

“If you’re standing still, it’s going backwards.”

FAST FACTS

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

  • 21.3 per cent of Western researchers are CIHR eligible;
  • There are 182 current CIHR grant holders, or 79 per cent of the 230 eligible;
  • CIHR accounts for 47.7 per cent of Western’s tri-council funding.

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)

  • 26 per cent of Western researchers are NSERC eligible;
  • There are 424 current NSERC grant holders, or 152 per cent of the 279 eligible;
  • NSERC accounts for 37.6 per cent of Western’s tri-council funding.

Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)

  • 53 per cent of Western researchers are SSHRC eligible (third most in G13);
  • There are 168 current SSHRC grant holders, or 29 per cent of the 573 eligible;
  • SSHRC accounts for 14.6 of Western’s tri-council funding.