McGill researchers tops

McGill researchers tops McGill University

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McGill Reporter
November 8, 2001 - Volume 34 Number 05
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 34: 2001-2002 > November 8, 2001 > McGill researchers tops

McGill researchers tops

Imagine what you could do with 24% more money. That's the enviable position of researchers at Canada's top 50 universities, which, on average, received a 24% boost in research funding from 1999 to 2000. Altogether, research income was nearly $2.8 billion. The bearer of good news is Research Infosource, with data gathered from Statistics Canada and their own Canadian University R&D Database.

Leading the way is the University of Toronto with $372 million, followed by the Université de Montréal ($253 million), McGill ($234 million), the University of Alberta ($206 million), and Université de Laval ($168 million).

All in all, 10 universities joined the exclusive $100 million club, up from only six the year before.

Where McGill comes out on top is in the ability of individual professors to attract funding for their research projects. In terms of research funding per full-time faculty member, the top 50 average was $85.9 thousand. McGill's is an impressive $177,000. Université de Montréal followed ($154,000), the University of Alberta closely behind ($151,000), then the University of Guelph, ($150,000) and the University of Toronto ($134,000).

Vice-Principal (Research) Pierre Bélanger is understandably happy with the results. "We're very pleased the statistics indicated research intensity rather than absolute numbers. University of Toronto has 50% more staff than we do." (McGill has 1,324 faculty; Toronto, 2,772.)

The over-all increase is largely due to better funded government programs that support university research. Granting agencies and other organizations that support university research are themselves bouncing back after a decade of cutbacks.

Ron Freedman, president of Research Infosource, says, "These impressive figures reflect the impact of increased federal and provincial funding.... In the late 1990s, programs such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Ontario Challenge Fund were created to boost university research capacity and we are seeing the results now."

In general, McGill's performance increased dramatically in securing support from granting councils. Bélanger says, "The CFI had something to do with it, especially our performance in the last competition where we did very well."

So what's the secret to McGill's success? "We took a proactive stance, really knocked heads together. We helped out with application writing and hired consultants, who do this professionally, to [give a hand]."

The Canada Foundation for Innovation was established in 1997 by the federal government to provide funds for research infrastructure. The Quebec government matches the CFI support and universities are responsible for raising a portion of the funding for CFI projects themselves. Associate Vice-Principal (Research) Ian Butler says that it was originally created for a five-year term, which has been extended to ten. He hopes that after 2010, "there may have to be a 'son of CFI.'"

Butler adds, "We have very good projects, inter-institutional, inter-university ones. And this year we have superb projects, highly-funded projects." In the first year of CFI funding, McGill received roughly $17 million. Then 2000 saw the CFI give $63 million and Butler hopes to see about $40-50 million for 2001. CFI also funds new professors and supports the Canada Research Chairs program. So far, McGill is "top of the country in net CFI funding."

A large majority of this funding, about 90%, goes to the sciences. Medicine receives about half of that, and the rest goes to science, agricultural and environmental sciences, engineering, and dentistry. Because research in the social sciences and humanities don't usually have huge infrastructure costs, they receive less money from the CFI.

In attracting research dollars, it helps to have a medical school. Sixteen universities with a medical school accounted for 82% of the research income. Hospitals involved in research attract all sorts of funding in the shape of private donations, bequests, or money from non-profit organizations. Guelph was the only university in the top ten without a medical school, although they do research on animal health.

Bélanger and Butler foresee research intensity picking up. McGill is hiring about 100 new professors a year, each of them with research programs. Butler is delighted by the quality of the new hires thus far. "They're new, hot-shot people. Young, keen, hungry, they will add to the research funding."

Bélanger says that of the 67 or so retiring staff, fewer are into hard-core research, or are slowing down a bit in the twilight of their career. "But," Bélanger adds, "if there's no money to apply for, that will be a big problem."

Prior to the events of September 11, universities were fairly confident that research money would continue to rise. Now Bélanger says, "We will have to wait and see what Mr. Martin has to say in December!" There are new expensive priorities on the national agenda, like security issues.

Butler does imagine there may not be as much money available for research. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council is feeling the pinch, for instance. They want to keep up with their prior funding commitments, but also want to fund new professors. The money's got to come from somewhere, so new equipment might be the victim.

Nonetheless, Butler believes that generally "the increase in funding will continue. There are new funding sources all the time." The CFI is looking at international projects, and prospects are looking good for the Faculty of Music's recent applications.

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