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Ryerson Associate Dean wants to spread the research wealth

November 18, 2009

Decentralized funding increases research output and results in more highly-trained researchers, suggests Ryerson Associate Dean Chris Evans.

In an opinion piece published in the online magazine The Mark, Evans suggests that centralizing research funds, à la G5 proposal, would have detrimental effects on research output in this country, and would result in fewer PhD graduates. Though a little late to the debate – the G5 idea is effectively dead – Evans argues that the success of NSERC’s Discovery Grant program, which funds smaller-scale research and is central to research at smaller universities, confirms that decentralizing research dollars “encourages research excellence across a broad range of fields, that the best researchers use the NSERC grants to leverage internationally competitive levels of support from other sources, and, tellingly, that the broad base of NSERC grants sustains national research capacity and student training”.

These criticisms, and similar ones, were widely made after Maclean’s published the G5 proposal in the summer. Evans suggests that the idea of centralizing research dollars was also expressed at the recent Science Policy Conference in Toronto, though I heard no such suggestions in any of the sessions I attended. Heather Munro-Blum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at McGill University and one of the G5, did criticize an approach to funding that “treats every policy as an equalization program”, but this seems a fair criticism and is a far cry from suggesting a specific funding policy to favour large universities over small.

Perhaps Dr. Evans’ word can be the last on this topic, and we can all agree: research excellence should be supported based on merit. To paraphrase the noted academic Dr. Seuss, “Excellence is excellence, no matter how small”.

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