Research, industry ties get budget support

In what remains a tough global economy, Canada’s federal government is cutting costs without cutting corners to get ahead.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced last Thursday the 2012 federal budget would see, among other deep cuts, reductions to old age security and the elimination of the penny complemented by significant investments in research and innovation initiatives at Canada’s universities.

Seen as a progressive indication of the government’s understanding and support of intensive research and post-secondary ties with industry, the announcement left universities across the country celebrating.

“The government has demonstrated its foresight in continuing to invest in education and research during these financially challenging times. These investments will enhance Canada’s competitive position in the world,” said Western President Amit Chakma, who serves as chair of the federal government’s Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy.

“Western is equally pleased with the government’s strong commitment to developing and implementing an international education strategy that reinforces Canada as a country of choice to study and conduct world-class research,” he added.

As part of the Economic Action Plan 2012, Flaherty announced:

  • $500 million over five years, starting in 2014–15, to the Canada Foundation for Innovation to support advanced research infrastructure;
  • $37 million annually to the granting councils to enhance their support for industry-academic research partnerships;
  • $60 million for Genome Canada to launch a new applied research competition in the area of human health, and to sustain the Science and Technology Centres until 2014–15;
  • $17 million over two years to further advance the development of alternatives to existing isotope production technologies;
  • $40 million over two years to support CANARIE’s operation of Canada’s ultra-high speed research network;
  • $14 million over two years to double the Industrial Research and Development Internship program;
  • $12 million per year to make the Business-Led Networks of Centres of Excellence program permanent.

“These investments will allow Ontario researchers to continue to contribute significantly to Canada’s social and economic growth,” said Alastair Summerlee, chair of the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) and president of the University of Guelph.

More than $604 million came out of Ontario universities and affiliated research hospitals in 2008 alone, according to COU’s statement, which also touted the province’s post-secondary institutions as vital contributors to job growth and businesses investments in Canada.

“With over 70 per cent of new jobs requiring some form of postsecondary education, investment in university research allows faculty to engage students in hands-on research, giving students the analytical and innovative skills they need to thrive in today’s knowledge-based economy,” said Bonnie Patterson, COU president and CEO.

“The commitments made in (Thursday’s) budget support our students with the funding and infrastructure required to ensure that Canada’s workforce has the talent it needs to remain globally competitive. It will also ensure that Canada continues to be a global leader in research and innovation that is able to attract and retain the best and brightest researchers from around the world,” she added.

While the 2012 federal budget includes a 15 per cent increase to the Youth Employment Strategy, some believe the federal government is still overlooking its youth – the bulk of them students with considerable amounts of education-related debt.

“The 2012 budget contains no student financial assistance measures to offset students’ growing debt loads,” Roxanne Dubois, national chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students, said in a statement.

Last month, the government also eliminated the $15 billion student loan ceiling along with Parliament’s oversight of lending limits.

“Removing limits on student loan lending will ensure that student debt will continue to skyrocket to unprecedented levels, demonstrating that the government has no strategy to address the student debt crisis,” added Dubois.