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Federal financing of scientific research: a major renewal for the academic community

February 28, 2018 - Source : NEWS

François Bertrand, Chief Research, Innovation and International Officer at Polytechnique Montréal, applauds the Canadian government’s vision for academic research contained in the 2018 budget.

With the measures announced by Finance Minster Bill Morneau, the attention the federal government has shown toward research in its budget is a real breath of fresh air.

Canada’s scientific community is unanimous in praising the government’s renewed backing and added support for scientific research nationwide. The U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities states that the “significant investments in the 2018 budget will revitalize Canadian scientific research.” The Association francophone pour le savoir (Acfas) “is delighted that public financing for research is forthcoming.” Universities Canada describes as “historic” the investments in the 2018 budget for the future of research in Canada.

On behalf of Polytechnique Montréal, a leading player in academic research in Québec and in Canada, I add my voice to theirs and applaud the federal government’s approach to support for initiatives devoted to the advancement of engineering and science.

Basic research, advanced infrastructure, increased diversity

With $3.8 billion earmarked over five years, the federal government has announced the biggest investment in scientific research in many years. This substantial financial support will have many positive spin-offs for Polytechnique Montréal and for all Canadian academic research establishments.

In particular, the Canadian government plans, over five years, to raise the budgets of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) by $354.7 million, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) by the same amount and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) by $215.5 million. Meanwhile, $275 million will be allocated to a fund supporting interdisciplinary international research and seeking quick results, $108 million a year will go to the National Research Council Canada (NRC) and $231 million will be devoted to the Research Support Fund to finance indirect costs.

It is important to note that these measures will have a significant impact on the basic research activities of academic institutions. As I stated recently,* basic research, involving the production and conveyance of knowledge, is based on researchers’ exploration and intellectual curiosity. Without it, there would be no major breakthroughs in applied research. By finally restoring substantial recurring support to basic research, the government is contributing to growth in applied research as well as to economic development, innovation and job creation.

We also note additional financing of $210 million over five years for the Canada Research Chairs Program. This program, established in 2000, is vital in attracting and retaining researchers early in their careers at postsecondary institutions. Through this financial support, up to 250 Canada Research Chairs could be established in various fields, including engineering. In this way, Polytechnique Montréal will be able to welcome women and men, from here and abroad, who will contribute to our collective wealth through their work in research and development, training, and teaching.

Scientific research infrastructure will benefit from $763 million over five years through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), including $160 million for the Major Science Initiatives Fund. Also, $572.5 million will go toward support for digital research infrastructure over five years, to which $52 million per year will be added subsequently. In addition, a national strategy on major research facilities will be established this year. These measures will help Polytechnique Montréal acquire and maintain the equipment and laboratories that are essential to researchers in conducting their work.

The federal government also plans to devote $21 million to increasing diversity in the sciences. This support is in line with Polytechnique’s positions on equity, diversity and orientation covered in a declaration of commitment by our institution issued in the fall of 2017 and in the school’s institutional values.

In short, the measures covering scientific research in the 2018 budget will be reflected in work covering a broader scope, the use of advanced infrastructure and a contribution from diversity that will have a direct impact on the enrichment of learning and scientific knowledge. These measures will have positive effects on the actions of our researchers, women and men alike, in laboratories, in the field and inside communities.

A promising future

For Canada’s scientific community, increased federal government financing of research is a long-hoped-for and much-awaited lever.

With this support, researchers and the stakeholders in research and innovation at Polytechnique Montréal, together with their industrial and academic partners, will pursue their work efficiently and diligently, with the rigour, reason and passion that motivate them day after day.

Ultimately, the measures set out by Ottawa will provide tangible benefits both to the Canadian community and at the international level. Academic research in the scientific field will result in discoveries and breakthroughs that will be real game-changers and will also help in the training of researchers, teachers and engineers who will contribute to the progress of society.

I have a real sense of optimism regarding the future of scientific research at Polytechnique Montréal and in the Canadian scientific community.

François Bertrand is Chief Research, Innovation and International Officer at Polytechnique Montréal.

* “Plaidoyer pour un réinvestissement dans la recherche fondamentale” (A plea for reinvestment in basic research) (in French) Magazine Poly, November 2017, p. 14

To learn more

Website of research and innovation at Polytechnique Montréal (in French)
Website of Research, Innovation and International Affairs at Polytechnique Montréal (in French)
Profile of François Bertrand, Chief Research, Innovation and International Officer at Polytechnique Montréal (in French)

Illustration du concept de la recherche. (Photo: Pixnio, licence CC0)

(Photo : Pixnio, CCO licence)

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