Reality Check: Different key, same commercialization tune

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The 2012 Ontario Budget essentially took a ‘wait and see’ approach on funding for research and development. After abruptly cancelling three rounds of funding under the Ontario Research Fund (ORF) Research Excellence program late last year, there is no immediate prospect of further cuts. But there will be no new funding to keep pace with either inflation or economic growth.
 
Some funding for research and development (R&D) will be phased out, but there is no indication that there is any intention to change the tune on research commercialization and business innovation. Provincial expenditure estimates indicate that funding for ORF has declined by 6 per cent in real terms over a five year span. In contrast, support for commercialization rose by more than 71 per cent.
 
The proposed Ontario budget only postpones decisions on how best to fund research and development. A Jobs and Prosperity Council is set to review tax credits and direct subsidies for business expenditures on R&D in the context of prospective changes to the federal government’s own programs.
 
We now know that the federal government plans to transfer some support for businesses from the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credit to direct subsidies. Including $67 million to “refocus” the National Research Council and “concentrate on active business-driven, industry-relevant applied research,” over $250 million will be directed to business research and development.
 
Meanwhile, federal support for the three main granting agencies for academic research and graduate education continues to stagnate. According to the federal main estimates, funding is set to decline in real terms for the second consecutive year and will be the same as it was in 2008-09. To keep up with economic growth, Tri-council funding should have instead grown by 5 per cent over the past three years. Clearly, commercialization continues to be Ontario and Canada’s favourite research funding song, leaving basic research with a dwindling pool of resources.

This article originally appeared in the OCUFA Report. To receive stories like this every week in your inbox, please subscribe.

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