Forging relationships with the new federal government
On February 6, Stephen Harper was sworn-in as the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada. The same day, he named his 27-member cabinet and revealed that Parliament would convene April 3.
While the new government is still in transition, our efforts to reach out and work with them have already begun.
In addition to working with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada on national advocacy, I have sent letters to all new cabinet ministers with portfolios related to post-secondary education and research. Our Vice-President (Research and International Relations) Ted Hewitt, has already met with Conservative MPs from the immediate area to discuss research. On March 20, Ted and I will be in Ottawa with Karli Farrow, Manager of the Office of the President, to meet with key government officials. And we have also invited new Conservative MPs from Southwestern Ontario to visit campus and learn more about the critical issues for our future success.
Research is a key focus of our work with the new federal government. Over the past several years, the government has made significant gains in funding for university research, after the severe cuts of the early 1990s. In addition to substantial increases to the funding of direct research costs through the research granting agencies, the federal government also established the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to fund research infrastructure costs, and created a program to provide funding for the indirect costs of research. To build academic capacity in research, the government also introduced the Canada Research Chairs Program to fund 2,000 research chairs in universities across Canada.
As reflected in the investments listed above, there are four inter-dependent elements to a successful university research agenda: direct and indirect costs of research, infrastructure and human resources. Our work with the new government will focus on ensuring Canada’s competitiveness in university research by strengthening these four elements.
For direct research, we will be advocating that the federal government ensure university-based research is funded at internationally competitive levels through the granting agencies. For indirect research costs, we will be working to see that the government reimburses the indirect costs of federally sponsored research at a minimum rate of 40 percent of the direct costs.
In terms of infrastructure, we need to see the CFI mandate renewed beyond 2010 and have the government ensure it is able to meet the international standard of providing infrastructure funding equivalent to at least 20 per cent of the direct costs of research.
Since 2000, the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) Program has provided much needed funding to help this country’s efforts to attract and retain the world’s best researchers. Building graduate program capacity beyond the successful CRC program is an important element of a successful federal research agenda, and vitally important from an overall economic perspective as well. We will be working with new federal partners to ensure that further investments in graduate programming are considered as an important component of their research strategy.
According to the AUCC, between 1990 and 2004, the Canadian economy generated an additional 400,000 jobs for Masters and PhD graduates – an increase of 70 per cent over this period. All indications are that this trend will continue in the knowledge economy. Despite a growing awareness of these trends, the number of graduate degrees awarded annually in Canada has grown quite slowly over the last decade.
We will be asking our federal government to recognize the importance of graduate programs as part of their broader research and innovation strategy and a critical component of strengthening university research.