Coalition for research demands urgent federal investment

After two successive years without any new funding for research, and stagnant levels of support for researchers, a broad coalition of researchers has convened on Parliament Hill to call on the federal government to increase funding for Canadian research.

The Coalition for Canadian Research has been formed to convey what the research community believes is an urgent need for major new investment in research funding by the federal government in order to secure highly qualified talent, attract investment and foster innovation to underpin Canada’s success in a turbulent world.

The coalition is made up of organisations representing post-secondary institutions, research hospitals, leading life sciences companies, university and hospital-based researchers, university faculty, health charities, student leaders, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and early career researchers across Canada.

In a statement on 5 October the coalition warned that without any funding increases to science and research, Canada “risks falling further behind peer countries”. Canada spent only 1.55% of GDP on research and development in 2022, well behind the OECD average of 2.71%.

Meanwhile, the United States, Germany, Japan and many others have committed substantial new funding to make research a central component of their industrial vision and their solution to problems ranging from climate change to future pandemics. The United States alone has committed over US$200 billion in new science investments.

“Canada must demonstrate similar ambition. Without action, there is a real risk of a brain drain of top talent overseas, meaning Canada will miss out on the skills, innovations and knowledge it will need to address our most pressing challenges,” the coalition said.

“Succeeding in an increasingly competitive world depends on a healthy and vibrant research ecosystem. Our peers are recognising this and Canada cannot afford to allow our research system to stagnate,” the coalition said.

Open letter

Earlier on Thursday, the Coalition for Canadian Research released an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland calling on the government to take immediate and significant action to ensure that science and research can help Canada build a sustainable, prosperous and resilient society.

The coalition members are the Association of Faculty of Medicines of Canada, Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, Canadian Association of University Teachers, Evidence for Democracy, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, HealthCareCAN, Health Charities Coalition of Canada, Research Canada, Support our Science, the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities (U15 Canada) and Universities Canada.

Philip Landon, interim president and CEO of Universities Canada, said: “Investments in research are key to delivering the talent we need to meet our industrial goals and solve the many challenges we face as a country. Yet, at a time when our competitors are doubling down on their domestic research capacity, Canada is falling behind.

“Now is the time for Canada to take the urgent steps necessary to build the highly skilled workforce of the 21st century by investing in research.”

Deborah Gordon-El-Bihbety, president and CEO of Research Canada, said: “Research in Canada is in trouble and the opportunity for Canada to act is now. Investments in health research are critical to Canada’s future and reinvestments in research are first and foremost investments in people.”

‘Major reinvestment needed’

The coalition said the government must give the increased funding recommended by the federal government’s own Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System (the Bouchard Report), which “underlined the need for a major reinvestment to maintain Canada’s research and innovation ecosystem amid high inflation and mounting international competition”.

The coalition is proposing a significant increase to the base budgets of the federal research granting agencies (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), to enrich the fundamental research which is the foundation of Canada’s research ecosystem.

In addition, it is seeking an increase to graduate scholarship and post-doctoral fellowship award amounts which have remained frozen for two decades.

“Together these steps can renew the health of the research system, help retain highly qualified talent and underpin the support early-career researchers, innovators and academics rely on to perform their work. We urge the government to step up to meet this call for action from across the research community,” the coalition said.

Dr Chad Gaffield, CEO of U15 Canada said: “All the leading countries in the world are embracing science and research as the way to build a globally competitive, resilient and prosperous society. But in Canada we are losing focus on that. Canada must match the ambition of our peers to advance knowledge and develop highly qualified talent for the benefit of all on an increasingly competitive global stage.”

Help for future innovators

Wasiimah Joomun, executive director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, said: “The cutting edge of Canadian research and scientific advancement lies with the future innovators that are currently struggling to make ends meet. Graduate and postdoctoral researchers are busy helping the future of Canada, and the federal government needs to help them in return.”

Sarah Laframboise, a PhD student at the University of Ottawa and executive director of Support Our Science, said: “Our next generation researchers in Canada are facing significant financial challenges in the pursuit of knowledge, innovation, and discovery. Despite being a pillar of the research community, their wages have remained unchanged for 20 years.

“Today, the research community is speaking with one voice to call on the government to increase funding for research in Canada so that our graduate students and postdoctoral scholars can take home a living salary.”