Research funding may not sustain universities’ research

While provincial funding for research at the University of Manitoba has increased over the past five-years, the level of funding the university receives may not be enough to sustain the amount of research it generates and compete on a national scale.

“Our university has a lot more capacity to grow our research,” said Digvir Jayas, vice-president research at the University of Manitoba.

“We can do this by providing better research services, by taking advantage of several under-utilized programs of the granting agencies and by advance planning to take advantage of new programs.”

In the 2008-09 fiscal year the university received $14.4 million for research from the provincial government. This amount has steadily increased over the past five years. The university only received $6.8 million in 2004-05.

This number is based upon the number of projects that the province agrees to support.
The university’s largest sector for research is medicine, followed by agriculture, engineering, science, arts and environment.

“Our province supports research in all areas, but certain areas receive more funding because larger projects are submitted by researchers in such areas,” said Jayas.

“For example, researchers from the departments of biosystems engineering and microbiology, along with other researchers from our university and several other universities, submitted a proposal to Genome Canada through Genome Prairie to develop microbial processes to convert agricultural and other waste to ethanol and hydrogen,” said Jayas.

“Our province provided significant funds to support this project.”

However, while the total amount of provincial funding for research at the U of M has increased over the past five years, the amount for science and engineering research has gone down.
In 2005-06, the total provincial funding to the U of M for science and engineering research was just under $10 million, while in 2008-09, it was just over $6 million. A spokesperson for the provincial government explained this was because there were a few large projects in 2005-07.

The university receives funding from several federal granting agencies. These include the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, among a long list of others.

While Manitoban universities receive a generous amount of funding from these organizations, they may not be as competitive as their other Canadian university counterparts.

For example, since 1991, universities in Manitoba have received a total of 710 awards and grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

By contrast, Ontario universities have received 9527, Alberta universities have received 2448 and Nova Scotia universities have received 1012. The University of Toronto itself has received 2094 awards, and the University of Alberta has received 1400.

The University of Manitoba has received 613.

“This is simply a matter of population. Ontario has approximately 20 universities that receive NSERC funding, and Alberta has eight, compared to Manitoba’s five,” said NSERC spokesperson Quinn Damery.

However, associate vice-president (research and international) at the University of British Columbia, Don Brooks, believes the level of funding that UBC receives is not sufficient to sustain the amount of research the university does.

“[The university needs to] make our case more clearly to the federal government, who needs to provide operating funds for big infrastructure projects funded from various federal and provincial sources,” said Brooks.

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) contributed over $60 million to the University of Manitoba for research in 2009. In comparison, the University of British Columbia received over $300 million from CFI.