UWOFA: Time all commit to intellectual prosperity

The Canadian government’s independent review of federal funding for fundamental science is in. And the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) applauds its bold call for major reinvestments.

The report by the Advisory Panel on Federal Support for Fundamental Science told Canadians “independent science and scholarly inquiry have been underfunded for much of the last decade.”

And that underfunding has, for the first time, pushed Canada out of the Top 30 nations in the world in terms of total research intensity. It also noted that, in constant dollars, granting council funding per Canadian researcher has been in steady decline since 2008-09.

The April report from the panel, chaired by (former University of Toronto President) David Naylor, says “major reinvestments are urgently required” and calls for an increase of $1.3 billion in federal funding.

It also calls for a more equitable distribution of those funds to the major research bodies: the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). The panel stressed all three agencies are underfunded, but noted “underfunding for SSHRC is particularly damaging to Canadian research because it represents the predominant source of funding for (humanities and social science) researchers.”

UWOFA agrees.

Our association echoes the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ call to distribute increased Tri-Council funding more evenly to allow for more opportunities for the community of scholars in humanities and social science.

On behalf of its members, UWOFA has called on the federal government to move immediately to implement the recommendations in the report. We have sent letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan, as well as other cabinet members and area Members of Parliament. Researchers at Western, like their colleagues at other Canadian universities, are currently not receiving the financial support necessary to fulfil the most basic obligations of their positions, much less make significant contributions to the advancement of knowledge.

That lack of support has had grave consequences.

The report notes Canadian expenditure on research and development has been declining slowly over the last 15 years, in contrast to what has happened in our G7 peers and key Asian nations.

In response to those realities, the report offers a series of critical recommendations for research in Canada. These propose substantial improvements in governance, oversight and advice. It also calls for a steady-state increase in base funding that, by the end of four years, amounts to 0.4 per cent of the Government of Canada’s annual budget.

The panel notes “this commitment would both affirm renewed federal leadership and greatly strengthen the foundations of Canadian research. Given global competition, the role of research in underpinning innovation and educating innovators, the need for evidence to inform policy-making, and the current unsettled conditions in the research ecosystem, the panel firmly believes that this commitment is also among the very highest-yield investments in Canada’s future that any government could make.”

Again, UWOFA agrees.

The Panel says it is critical to act on these recommendations because:

Research is essential to the health, prosperity, and security of Canadians and to our efforts to foster a creative, inclusive, and vibrant society. Our universities, colleges, and research institutions are responsible for providing the right environment and tools not only to perform this research at the highest levels of excellence, but also to inspire, teach, and shape each new generation of students through research-led education. If the federal funding apparatus is well-tuned and properly resourced, our universities and research institutions can become hubs that will catalyze unprecedented levels of innovation and prosperity. Our research institutions will provide a window into the best ideas generated by the global research community, and contribute in turn to the global trove of knowledge, raising Canada’s reputation in the process.

UWOFA believes it is time all political parties publicly commit to the implementation of the report’s recommendations for the health, wealth and intellectual prosperity of the nation.

Ann Bigelow is President of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association.

READ THE REPORT

Commissioned last year by Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan, and led by former University of Toronto President David Naylor, the Report of the Advisory Panel for Federal Support for Fundamental Science – dubbed the Naylor Report – calls for a new vision of sustained excellence across postsecondary disciplines.

Released April 10, the report stated that federal government sources represent just 25 per cent of total research-and-development funding that takes place in higher education. The panel recommended enhanced support for early career researchers; strategic and coordinated collaboration for international and interdisciplinary research; improved gender equity in science; and increased funding for discovery research.

Read the report at sciencereview.ca.