More on the 2010 Federal Budget

Increased investment in research and research talent is not often easy to attain, but last week’s federal budget—which includes notable new investment in research in a time of overall fiscal restraint—suggests Canada’s post-secondary sector continues to build a compelling case and government is listening. It’s important for you to know that the University of Alberta has been an important and influential player in this conversation. 

Over the last year, we have been in constant formal and informal contact with partners in government, putting forward ideas on how to take the best advantage of budget investments in research infrastructure over the last few years. We’ve collaborated with leaders across Canada’s academic community, coordinating messages about the need for expanded funding to the Tri-Councils, greater support for indirect costs, and sustained funding for major research agencies such as Genome Canada, NRC technology clusters (such as NINT), and TRIUMF.
 
By the time the U of A made our annual budget submission to the federal government in August 2009, we had already laid a strong foundation for our requests and the results confirm just how much impact we can have on federal policy. In addition to advocating for increase Tri-Council funding, the U of A worked with some of our G13 colleagues to call for an internationally competitive post-doctoral fellowship program, one that would make it possible for Canadian universities—our university—to compete for top young talent.  In October 2009, the U of A organized a meeting of the G13 and granting council presidents with James Rajotte, Chair of the Finance Committee, where we were able to discuss critical concerns. In response, the federal government increased funding to the granting councils by approximately 2% and has allocated $45M over five years to create new post-doc awards worth $70,000 per year for two years.
 
This new post-doc program, in concert with the recent infrastructure investments and the establishment of other programs such as the CFI, CRCs, Canada Graduate Scholarships, Vanier Scholarships, and Canada Excellence Research Chairs, will not only make it possible to attract and keep talent in Canada, but will pay dividends in research discoveries and talent development for the future.
 
I now depend on you to ensure that a significant chunk of this federal investment reaches this campus. It is critical that we do a better job of identifying strong young talent and put forward the strongest possible applications for Canada Graduate and Vanier Scholarships. With the advent of the new post-doc program, please take time and consider who you’d like to bring onto your team and help them secure one of the new awards. 
 
In Tri-Council competitions, the unfortunate reality is that our performance is uneven. We have great successes—for example, winning two $1M SSHRC CURA grants this year—but we also face disappointing results in other areas—for example, in CIHR competitions and in securing national graduate student scholarships. No doubt these competitions are tough with so many people competing at a very high level for limited funds. Yet, given that faculty and students at the U of A are more than capable of competing with the best, we must continue to apply often and strategically, using the best practices available.
   
Ensuring that the U of A’s research culture is strongly supported requires effort at every level, from students and researchers putting in the hours on projects and grant applications through to senior administrators undertaking effective government lobbying. Why put in the effort? So that we can continue to make important—sometimes life-changing—contributions in classrooms, labs and society that have a long-lasting positive impact on the public good.