News | Government announces $3.7 billion in research funding

National research and innovation policy’s “key areas” leave basic research untouched

On October 16, the Parti Québécois (PQ) government announced that it would invest $3.7 billion over five years into scientific research and innovation, the modernization of training programs, infrastructure, and large-scale ‘intersectoral’ projects – or projects undertaken by multiple sectors with an interdisciplinary approach. This National Research and Innovation Policy (PNRI) comes in the wake of massive budget cuts to the Fonds de Recherche du Québec (FRQ) earlier this year, where budgets in some research sectors were slashed by as much as 30 per cent.

This funding prioritizes seven areas of research, according to a press release from the government of Quebec, namely: aerospace, biofood, biotechnology, renewable energy and electric transportation, creative industries, communication and information technology, and personalized medicine.

The policy will also provide funding to the FRQ, a tri-organization funding system that supports research throughout the province. According to the FRQ’s website, this 25 per cent increase in funding is “the first real and sustained increase to the budget of the Fonds in more than ten years.”

Jonathan Mooney, Secretary-General of McGill’s Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), told The Daily that the cuts to the FRQ earlier this year were “devastating.”

“Students who [had] great projects, great research, great supervisors, and interesting research, [weren’t] getting any funding from the system to actually pursue it,” he said.

Despite the specific targeting of the seven “strategic areas” in the fund, the University denied that the fund would come at the cost of basic research, which, in contrast to applied research, is not done for immediate commercial gain, and lays the foundation for further discoveries.

“This is only one plan. […] Provincial funding only accounts for 20 per cent, roughly, of McGill funding for sponsored research,” Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations) Rose Goldstein told The Daily. “It’s still the majority federal [money], which is mainly [directed to] basic research.”

“There is a lot of money that is dedicated to [basic] research,” Mooney noted. “It’s not as if there is going to be a clawback.”

However, Mooney also said that there could be a lack of growth outside of the seven targeted areas. “Maybe there isn’t going to be growth in those areas […] But there is still going to be an opportunity for scientists or students who want to pursue those topics to pursue them.”

$367 million in bursaries will be available to students in the coming years, according to the specifics of the fund. As per a statement by PGSS External Affairs Officer Navid Khosravi-Hashemi in the press release, this will create 1,500 more grants for students across Quebec.

According to a press release from PGSS, Quebec universities will receive $340 million of funding, targeted toward those seven areas, as well as $478.7 million for indirect costs of research. However, Goldstein said that it was too early to tell how exactly funding would be distributed both between Quebec universities and within McGill, noting that the plan was currently only at a “higher level.”

$367 million in bursaries will be available to students in the coming years, according to the specifics of the fund. As per a statement by PGSS External Affairs Officer Navid Khosravi-Hashemi in the press release, this will create 1,500 more grants for students across Quebec.

Goldstein alluded to the implementation of some form of competition for funding at McGill, noting, “It’s not just going to be handed out.”

Both the University and PGSS remained optimistic on the potential of the funding, saying that there is a significant possibility for growth, especially within the targeted areas.

“It’s going to allow the researchers in those [strategic] areas to grow their groups,” Mooney said. “It’s going to allow McGill to shift its research focus a little bit so what it’s doing with its research policy […] is in line with what the government is doing.”

“We think it’s a very holistic, well-integrated plan,” Goldstein added. “The seven strategic areas [align] very closely with our strengths and priorities. If you look at [the government’s] plan and our strategic research plan we think there’s a very good match.”

Goldstein also welcomed the funding for indirect research costs, giving examples such as electricity costs and libraries. “All research incurs indirect costs. […] The indirect costs are the institutional costs that benefit and support the research.”

Despite the lack of funding increases in certain areas, the reaction to the fund was overwhelmingly positive.

“It means we are going to have $37 million more available for supporting students,” said Mooney.

The policy aims to fulfill the government’s goal of investing 3 per cent of the province’s GDP in research and development.


For more on basic and applied research at McGill, see this year’s feature on Principal Suzanne Fortier, “New Sheriff in Town: Welcoming new principals and principles.”


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