All Posts Tagged With: "Budget 2010"
Although Flaherty announces a scattering of new investments in research, his budget is underwhelming
After listening to governor general Michaëlle Jean deliver Wednesday’s Speech from the Throne, one would be forgiven for getting excited about a budget that promised to deliver new funds for research. “[The government] will expand the opportunities for our top graduates to pursue post-doctoral studies and to commercialize their ideas,” Jean said. “To fuel the ingenuity of Canada’s best and brightest and bring innovative products to market, our Government will build on the unprecedented investments in Canada’s Economic Action Plan by bolstering its Science and Technology Strategy.”
Sure, the government has aggressively directed funding at scientific, medical and technological research that have obvious economic or health benefits at the expense of basic and the “soft sciences,” but at least Prime Minister Stephen Harper and finance minister Jim Flaherty recognize that research is key in producing innovative ideas, bolstering the economy and creating jobs. Right?
But when Flaherty rose to speak in the House of Commons Thursday, his pledges in regard to research were, like the rest of the budget, underwhelming. The government announced a $32 million annual boost to the three research granting councils. However, considering that last year’s budget brought in a $43 million cut for 2010-11, they are still left $11 million short.
Similarly, Genome Canada—a non-profit set up by government to conduct leading research in genomics—received $75 million “to launch a new targeted research competition focused on forestry and the environment and sustain funding for the regional genomics innovation centres.” But lest we forget that this time last year Genome Canada was completely shut out of the 2009 budget, although it was expecting funding in the $120 million range. Three months after the funding announcement Genome Canada pulled out of a major Canadian-led program to map the genetic circuitry of stem cells.
The Throne Speech did accurately forecast the continued direction of the government’s approach to research; as has been typical in recent budgets, the so-called “hard sciences”—science, technology, engineering and medicine—are seen as the most important drivers of economic growth. The National Graduate Caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students strongly criticized this approach: “Despite a majority of graduate students being enrolled in the humanities and social sciences, this budget allocated a mere $3 million to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), compared to $16 million for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and $13-million to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council,” it stated in a release.
“Innovation is at the heart of Canada’s future economic success. To meet its own goals the government needs to invest in the basic and curiosity-driven research that fuels the innovation engine,” spokesperson Andrea Balon said.
Graduate students are not the only ones making this argument. A report authored by Impact Group suggested that industries that rely primarily on social science and humanities knowledge account for 75 per cent of jobs in Canada, and that this research influences $389 billion in economic activity, close to the $400 billion from hard science industries.
The Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (AUCC), the lobby group for universities, was more positive in its response. In a statement titled “Budget investments in university research a ‘strategic choice’,” the AUCC said it was “pleased” with the investments. “This budget sends an important signal,” said Paul Davidson, AUCC president and CEO. ”It shows that the government recognizes the vital role universities play in creating opportunities for Canadians in the new economy.”
The budget also puts money aside for $135 million to the National Research Council to support 11 regional technology clusters. Another $397 million over five years went to the Canadian Space Agency. $126 million was earmarked for the TRIUMF facility where nuclear and particle physics research occurs.
Perhaps the most heralded research announcement of the day was $45 million over five years for new post-doctoral fellowships that will attract talented researchers to Canada. The program will establish 140 fellowships annually, valued at $70,000 per year for two years each. This is all fine and good, but let’s put it into context. As Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells notes in his analysis, “It’s also about one-third (in any given average year) of the $87.5 million over three years the 2009 budget allocated to Canada Graduate Scholarships. They’re different programs, but you see the difference in scale.”
These are all worthwhile investments; but the piecemeal approach to funding research (a little space technology here, a scattering of physics research there) suggests that Flaherty is not acting out a larger vision of how research and innovation will help us out of the recession. At least as it relates to research funding, the Conservative government is not “leading the way on jobs and growth”—as the title of Budget 2010 proclaims—but treading water.
Granting councils to get fellowship funding for new PhDs
In a budget that is light on new spending, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty did pledge new funding for a post-doctoral program. Over five years, the federal government will provide $45 million to the federal research granting councils to create post-doctoral fellowships. The program will establish 140 fellowships annually, valued at $70,000 per year for two years each.
However, to put the new program into context, in 2009 the federal government pledged $87.5 million over three years, as opposed to five, for the Canada Graduate Scholarships. (Read Paul Wells’ analysis here.)
The new fellowships are aimed at creating a “highly skilled workforce” and are intended to be “internationally competitive.” The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has praised the new program. “The fellowship program, funded at $45 million over five years, will be internationally competitive and will help attract and keep talented recent PhD graduates in Canada. Their skills and knowledge will help drive innovative research and discoveries in universities, industry and other knowledge sectors,” the AUCC said in a media release.
The Canadian Federation of Students had hoped the budget would have increased funding to the existing Canada Graduate Scholarships program. “In this budget, the government ignored recommendations made by researchers, professors and students,” the CFS said.
Budget puts grads to work. Nothing for current students
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget, tabled Thursday afternoon, offered little in the way of new spending announcements, or policy revisions, for students. Instead, the 2010 budget makes modest expansions to existing programs that are largely aimed at putting university and college graduates to work, as well as at encouraging low income students to pursue a post-secondary education. Student groups say not enough is being done to help existing students.
Related: Budget 2010: New post-doctoral grant
The budget commits $108 million over three years “to assist young people looking to gain skills and experience.” This includes a one-year $30 million boost to the Career Focus component of the Youth Employment Strategy, which funds businesses and other organizations to provide internships to recent graduates. “This will allow more young Canadians to get that vital first job in their field of study,” the budget reads.
An additional $30 million increase is provided for the Skills Link portion of the Youth Employment Strategy. According to the government, Skills Link targets young people who are “at risk,” and others in need, including people with disabilities, single parents, Aboriginals, recent immigrants and those who have dropped out of high school. Skills Link is aimed at giving youth “the broad range of skills, knowledge and work experience they need to participate and succeed in the job market.”
The Pathway to Education Canada program will see an extra $20 million aimed at encouraging students from lower income families to pursue post-secondary education. Finally, minister Flaherty’s budget promises $30 million to create “partnerships” with First Nations “to improve the governance framework and clarify accountability for First Nations elementary and secondary education.”
In response to Thursday’s budget, Canada’s two largest student groups expressed disappointment.
The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) praised the government’s investment in Pathway to Education Canada, which is targeted at increasing university participation rates. However, CASA says not enough has been done to help students who are already attending Canada’s post-secondary institutions. “Unfortunately the federal government did not recognize the needs of students that are currently facing a cash and credit crunch due to last year’s recession,” said Arati Sharma, CASA’s national director.
Similarly, the Canadian Federation of Students also denounced the budget as inadequate. “With a record number of Canadians enrolled in college or university, this budget does nothing to help students and their families afford an education,” said CFS national chairperson Katherine Giroux-Bougard.
The lack of significant funding announcements is consistent with yesterday’s Speech from the Throne, in which students were barely mentioned. In fact, the only reference to students came when the Conservative government pledged to work with Aboriginal communities and province’s to “reform and strengthen education, and to support student success and provide greater hope and opportunity.”
The only other hint the government offered about today’s spending, echoed in the budget, was that there were no major cuts planned. “Balancing the nation’s books will not come […] by cutting transfer payments for health care and education,” governor general Michaelle Jean read, going on to explain later in the speech that restraining program spending overall would protect growth in transfers to pensions, education and health.
With files from Erin Millar