On Campus

Conservatives accused of underfunding basic research

With news that Canadian researchers have achieved a major breakthrough in stem-cell research, today’s Globe and Mail features another lengthy piece about on-going criticism of the Harper government’s approach to funding university and scientific research:

Criticism has come not only from expected corners such as [the Canadian Association of University Teachers], but also from university faculties and researchers across the country, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and the French Canadian Association for the Advancement of Science.

They warn Ottawa’s stand on research will make it tough for Canada to recruit or retain top talent; that the Conservatives are investing in bricks over brain power; that they nurture commercial ventures but neglect basic research; and that funding comes with strings attached. To some, this suggests a new era of political interference is afoot in Canadian science.

The most common complaint since the Conservatives came to power in 2006 is the lack of support for the three arm’s-length agencies that finance basic research: the National Science and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

After years of double-digit budget increases in the early 2000s, government contributions in recent years to NSERC, SSHRC and CIHR have barely kept pace with inflation – and last year they underwent a government-mandated strategic review to reduce their spending.

So while the Barack Obama administration in Washington has added $10-billion (U.S.) to finance basic research in the United States, the three agencies that back basic research in Canada must cut spending by $148-million over the next three years.

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