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CAUT head addresses issues

May 13, 2009

Jim Turk, Executive Director for the Canadian Association of University Teachers, in a Globe and Mail commentary, provided a handy FAQ for the current research funding debate. As Dr. Turk points out:

Rarely has Canada’s scientific community been as upset with the federal government as it is now. Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems bewildered, asking repeatedly why everyone is complaining when his government gave $2.75-billion in its recent budget for university infrastructure and scientific equipment. The problem is that the Harper government doesn’t seem to understand what makes for productive research, refuses advice from scientists and researchers, and thinks science can be directed by politicians.

He addresses several key issues: what is an appropriate level of funding? should we direct funding to results-based research and if so, how? why are researchers upset? Perhaps most helpfully, though, is his contribution to the discussion about the perceived politicization of science and research decisions:

Our federal government has acknowledged that politicians should not try to pick winners and losers in the economic marketplace, but persists in trying to do so in the marketplace of ideas. In the 2007 and 2008 budgets, the federal government dictated where new money for granting councils could be spent – ruling out the vast majority of researchers’ work. In the 2009 budget, it restricted new social science humanities graduate scholarships to students “focused on business-related degrees.”

That research funding has become politicized was also evident when the presidents of the three granting councils – the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – failed to object when their budgets were cut, and when Genome Canada’s president expressed concerns, then quickly retracted them. Canada’s research funding agencies should be made arms’ length from government.

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