Saturday, December 20, 2014
Last updated: 10 hours ago

2014 federal budget includes increased funding for post-secondary research and internships

UBC's TRIUMF centre is Canada's national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics. File photo Ashley Lockyer/The Ubyssey

UBC’s TRIUMF centre is Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics. File photo Ashley Lockyer/The Ubyssey

Canada’s 2014 federal budget, announced Tuesday afternoon, includes the creation of a $1.5 billion research fund for universities and a commitment of $222 million to UBC’s TRIUMF centre.

The Canada First Research Excellence Fund will fund research in science and technology at Canada’s post-secondary institutions with $1.5 billion over 10 years starting in the 2015/16 academic year.

“To put that in context, the total budget of the research granting councils funds research, it funds Canada research chairs, it funds graduate students and postdoctoral fellowships — that bundled together is currently about $2.5 billion a year,” said UBC’s VP research and international John Hepburn. “This represents a 10 per cent increase roughly speaking in the federal support of research at universities, so it’s a big change.”

The fund is in part a result of lobbying efforts by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, as well as university presidents across the country.

“We’re all really, really happy that this was funded,” Hepburn said. “I frankly was wondering if we would get it in this budget given that this budget consists mostly of cuts.”

How exactly the fund will be administered is yet to be determined.

The budget includes $40 million over two years to create up to 3,000 internship positions for recent university graduates in unspecified “high-demand fields.”

“The first response is it’s excellent news for UBC and for universities in general from the research and training front,” said Hepburn.

The budget also earmarked $222 million over five years for the UBC-based TRIUMF physics laboratory to support international partnerships.

The operations of the TRIUMF centre, which is owned and operated by 18 Canadian universities, are based on five-year plans, with the current one ending in March 2015.

“One thing that’s notable here is normally this type of announcement would happen next year,” said TRIUMF spokesperson Tim Meyer. “This early announcement indicates a level of confidence that we’re delighted with.”

Meyer said that over the next year, TRIUMF hopes to secure an additional $50-70 million from the federal government as well as further investments from provincial governments and international investments.

This $222 million will be invested over the next five years in isotope research and followups to some of the scientific breakthroughs Canada has been involved in over the past five years, such as the Nobel-prize-winning Higgs boson discovery, which Meyer said TRIUMF led Canada’s participation in.

TRIUMF, which is currently involved with 50 international organizations, will partner with universities and laboratories to do this research. For instance, a $10-million partnership approved by the Indian and Canadian governments last August will see the two countries working together to build accelerator components to produce isotopes for research.

$8 million has been allocated to postdoctoral research partnerships through Mitacs, an organization which UBC partners with for student partnerships and training.

Rob Annan, director of policy, research and evaluation at Mitacs, said the research program funds postdoctoral students for up to two years to do research at a Canadian university while working at a Canadian company or not-for-profit organization to apply that research. The program has been in its pilot stage for four years.

“This is our first federal funding at the national level for the program, so we’ll be expanding it,” said Annan.

This year’s budget also opened up eligibility for Mitacs’s Accelerate program, which focuses on providing research internships for graduate students, to include not-for-profit organizations. Previously it only included businesses.

“We’re really excited that this is actually going to open up a whole new part of our [program], which is going to have a real impact especially on those grad students in social sciences and humanities,” said Annan

The budget also included a further $46 million in additional annual funding for Canada’s research institutions through increases to federal agencies which give research grants and increases to the Indirect Costs Program, which helps Canada’s universities and colleges maintain labs, access administrative support and meet regulatory standards.

This article was updated at 2:30 p.m. on February 12 to include additional information from John Hepburn and Rob Annan.