Canadian research facilities are often well-funded during construction phases but are left without much support from the federal government to keep them operational.
University of Saskatchewan President Ilene Busch-Vishniac said that finding enough funding to cover operating costs has been a challenge for Canadian research facilities for years.
“It is odd that we get federal funding to build great labs (like CLS and InterVac) but then we receive little or no funding to operate them,” Busch-Vishniac wrote to the Sheaf in an email.
“This has routinely been a problem for our national facilities and it makes no sense to operate like this.”
Andrew Potter, CEO and director of VIDO-Intervac, the state-of-the-art international vaccine research centre on campus, said that operational funding for facilities needs to be considered before construction.
“There needs to be more attention paid to operational funding prior to building facilities, something that may mitigate problems faced by all of us.”
The federal government has funding programs in place for research initiatives and facilities, but recent budget cuts have left them unable to meet the funding needs of both small- and large-scale facilities.
The Canadian Foundation for Innovation was created in 1997 to help cover the operational costs of research facilities and has created a number of programs to provide funding for research facilities and projects.
The CFI can award up to 40 per cent of a facility’s operating budget to 10 to 12 of the major research facilities in the country —including the university’s own Canadian Light Source and VIDO-Intervac.
The 2013-14 operating budget for the CLS is upwards of $40 million, 40 per cent of which was funded by CFI. Although the facility receives a large chunk of its funding from the government, it is still left to find at least $24 million in funding each year from other sources.
“In the past there has not been a mandate of any government department or organization to fund ongoing operations of these facilities other than the limited CFI funds” that are available in the Infrastructure Operating Fund, Potter wrote.
Potter wrote that VIDO-Intervac has not experienced any serious effects from the budget cuts and is working on creating partnerships to secure additional funding for the facility. However, not all Canadian research facilities are free from the budget cutback’s effects.
The federal government slashed National Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s funding by $30 million. The Council has an operating budget of $600 million.
NSERC’s Major Resources Support program provides funding for the operational and maintenance costs of research facilities across the country and is funded out of NSERC’s operating budget. The MRS program will not undergo a complete cut but will have limited funds to award to meriting facilities.
Many small facilities across the country are dependant on the MRS to remain operational.
These smaller-scale facilities, which often have extremely narrow fields of study, have been hit by the federal funding cuts to programs that they are dependant on, leading to the closure of some facilities.
The Kuhlane Lake Research Station, a small facility run by the University of Calgary’s Arctic Institute of North America, received notice in July that the federal government will withdraw its funding in 2013. This funding, a total of $106,000, made up half of the facility’s yearly operating budget.
The Experimental Lakes Area facility, which is devoted to the study of human impact on freshwater lakes, lost all of its funding from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The cut will save the federal government $2 million each year.
Both facilities have until March 2013 to find sufficient funding or they will close.
The budget cuts to the science and technology research realm has ripple effects throughout the Canadian and international science community, Potter wrote.
He noted that fewer available facilities and more expensive facility time could result in researchers leaving the country to do their work elsewhere.
“There is always a longer-term danger of people leaving the country for greener pastures or a perception of Canada as being still a resource-driven country as opposed to a knowledge-based one.”
Photo: Brett Smith