In Canada, scientists struggle with funding stagnation Science

OTTAWA, CANADA –Earlier this month, researchers attending a major Canadian science policy conference heard good news when Science Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced the government would provide C$1 billion for research projects. But soon there will be disappointment. Scientists realized that a billion dollars is not new money, but existing money.

The incident added to the frustration among researchers about Canadian science funding. In recent years, the country’s research spending has not kept pace with inflation, and between 1999 and 2019 there was a slight decline as a share of gross domestic product, making Canada the only country among the Group of Seven developed countries to see such a decline. The large, multi-year funding increase that began in 2018 continued successfully, with budgets for the federal government’s three main funding boards remaining flat this year.

“Research councils are facing significant challenges in funding investigator-initiated research due to stagnant budgets,” said Brad Wouters, an oncologist and executive vice president for science and research at University Health Network. “This is a major blow to Canadian science.”

For example, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for many years 23.5% cross section In order to increase the success rate of applications, all the grants are applied to the largest funding program, the Researcher Initiated Project Grant. Between 2018 and 2020, the cuts allowed CIHR to award an additional 87 grants per competition. But the average grant size has dropped from C$950,000 to C$725,000.

For Tania Watts, an immunologist at the University of Toronto, the cuts mean hiring fewer interns and technicians. “It takes the whole person out,” he says, on some projects. “There’s never enough money to do what we want to do.”

Wouters said the lack of funding is hitting graduate students and postdoctoral researchers the hardest. As a result, jobs for students or postdoctoral fellows are increasingly scarce, and the situation for those who receive grants or scholarships from funding councils is no better, as the value of these awards has remained stable over the past 20 years. Masters scholarships are only 17,500 Canadian dollars per year, while PhD scholarships. 21,000 CA$ and 45,000 CA$ post-doc. That leaves many graduate and doctoral students struggling to live in the cities where their universities are located, and some are leaving Canada or abandoning science altogether, Wouters said.

Students and postdocs Addressed to the government to increase funding for scholarships and bursaries. At a Nov. 16 policy conference, Champagne heard their call and said things were “moving in that direction.” However, there is no information that new funding will not come in yet.

Wouters fears that things are coming to an end for young scientists. “If we don’t get more investment, we’re going to lose an entire generation,” he said.

Many researchers are concerned that the proportion of funding going to investigator-led core grants is declining relative to funding for areas and projects identified as government strategic priorities, such as quantum computing, genomics and, more recently, pandemics. readiness. Watt used to spend about 80 percent of CIHR research funding on investigator-led proposals in 2001, but that has dropped to about 54 percent.

Researchers complain that the government’s strategic concerns influence decisions about whether to fund individual projects. CIHR solicited proposals last summer A CA$90 million financing program support clinical trials. But it came with a twist. Two additional committees, including non-scientific civil servants, made final funding decisions based on whether their proposals were consistent with the government’s proposals. Biomanufacturing and Life Science Strategies. In some cases, this meant that proposals with lower scores from peer reviewers took precedence over proposals with better scores.

For example, Dylan McKay, a nutritional biochemist at the University of Manitoba, proposed a comparison of two treatments for kidney disease. Analysts ranked it fourth out of 130 votes. But the proposal was not one of the 22 selected for funding in a runoff vote. Mackay was shocked. “Nobody has seen anything like this at CIHR,” he said. “We never thought they wouldn’t follow the peer review sequence.”

A CIHR spokeswoman said applications were judged on how well they met one of several strategic goals, including better preparing Canada to respond to the pandemic. However, these targets were not included in the initial call for proposals.

Mackay said giving final say to non-academic committees seems to violate the idea that funding decisions are made by your peers, which he calls a “fundamental principle” of how Canada’s funding boards are run. “Infinite research,” he says, “canada punches above our weight.”

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