'The Naylor report identifies what's needed to bring Canadian research up on the world level'
Last June, a nine-person panel led by former University of Toronto president David Naylor began a six-month, independent review of the state of Canada’s research funding.
The Advisory Panel on Federal Support for Fundamental Science called on universities for evidence and input, and Concordia’s submission suggested a number of targeted improvements to the system.
The final report, submitted to the Canadian government last month, offers a total of 35 recommendations to improve federal funding for university-based research.
Justin Powlowski, Concordia's interim vice-president of Research and Graduate Studies, says most of its key points are consistent with the university's vision.
“The report covers a lot of ground and does a very good job of identifying and synthesizing what is needed to better support Canadian research and bring it up on the world level,” he says.
Powlowski points to three recommendations as being especially significant.
Support for investigator-led research
“First, the call for an investment of $485 million over four years to support investigator-led research is critical, and it’s something that scientists at all universities are glad to hear,” he says.
“In recent years, the balance has shifted towards funding so-called ‘priority research,’ or research whose parameters are dictated by government and industry priorities. That type of focus can exclude researchers whose work doesn’t fit neatly into those priority areas. And it has tended to be at the expense of curiosity-driven research which generally has longer-term payoffs. So it’s important that we shift the balance back.”
Increased funding for Canada Research Chairs
Powlowski also welcomes the recommendation to increase funding to the Canada Research Chair (CRC) program and to strategically allocate new Chair positions to “Tier 2” researchers, or what are more commonly referred to as early-career researchers.
“Under the current system, it can be a challenge for the university to recruit the requisite number of Tier 1 researchers,” Powlowski says. “With restored funding and the flexibility to hire more Tier 2 researchers, we would have a better tool for recruiting world-class talent to the university.”
Funding for less traditional research opportunities
The report also recommends strengthening and coordinating funding for international, interdisciplinary, high-risk and rapidly emerging research opportunities.
“This will hopefully fill the gaps in funding for important research opportunities that have typically been harder to find funding for," says Powlowski. “For example, multidisciplinary research is something that we do particularly well at Concordia. Putting resources towards this will play to our strengths.”
Overall, the report calls for a more coordinated approach to federal funding, including the creation of a new advisory body to oversee the system, and a board to more closely coordinate the funding programs and the administration of the four main federal funding bodies: NSERC, SSHRC, CIHR and CFI.
‘A thorough and evidence-based framework’
The report has been well-received since its release. Universities Canada called it a “thorough and evidence-based framework for long-term, globally competitive re-investment in Canada’s research ecosystem.”
The advocacy group has since embarked upon a six-month campaign to press the government to implement all of the report’s recommendations.
On the whole, Powlowski agrees with their take, adding that while the report is not perfect, it does lead the way on many issues.
“It’s a very good roadmap for improvements,” he says. “We should be focused now on implementing it to the benefit of all Canadian universities.”
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