Data Check: Federal commitment to R&D continues to decline

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The latest news about research and development (R&D) spending intentions for the coming year echoes the same sad story that has appeared in previous issues of OCUFA Report. The Government of Canada’s planned expenditures demonstrates that the national R&D effort continues to decline. The federal government will be increasing spending by slightly more than half a per cent.

Since 2010, federal R&D expenditures have fallen by 12 per cent. After inflation the drop is more like 18 per cent. If economic forecasts are borne out, federal expenditures as a proportion of GDP will have fallen 26 per cent in just half a decade. Federal government agencies like the National Research Council and tri-council granting agencies are significant contributors to overall R&D expenditure, and cuts to these organizations account for a ignificant portion of the decline.

There are spillover effects in higher education, one of the three major sectors undertaking R&D in Canada and the other major outlet for federal government R&D expenditures. Federal support accounts for almost half of Canadian universities’ sponsored research funding. The real level of federal support to the university research enterprise in the coming year will remain virtually unchanged. But it still represents a nine per cent decline since 2010.

Closer to home, the Government of Ontario has opted to put more emphasis on commercialization of research. As a result, funding for the principal sources of provincial support for sponsored research at universities have been reduced. In the coming year, funding for the Ontario Research Fund will decline five per cent, adding to the 15 per cent since 2010. University research expenditures are also funded from institutional operating revenue. The fact that public funding for universities in Ontario is effectively frozen can have no good consequence – for research or for teaching.

Sources
Canada, Department of Finance, Department of Finance Survey of Private Sector Economic Forecasters
Ontario, Ministry of Finance, Expenditure Estimates
Statistics Canada, Federal government spending on science and technology, 2015/2016 (intentions); Canadian economic accounts, first quarter 2015 and March 2015; Financial information of universities and colleges, 2012/2013

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