A shift in focus towards applied research is bringing about a growing decline in basic science research in Canada, according to a recent report based on a survey conducted by an international organization made up of young scientists.
The emphasis on applied research has resulted in re-allocation of funding which has left “many accomplished researchers in Canada now left completely un-funded and Canada’s future as a global leader in innovation and discovery is at stake,” the report, Restoring Canada’s Competitiveness in Fundamental Research: The View from the Bench, said. The report was published by the Global Young Academy, an organization of more than 200 scientists in the early stages of their careers.
The report covers the period between 2005 and 2015. It reveals the erosion of federal support for fundamental research in Canada’s three major research councils: Losses of 36 per cent per researcher in natural sciences and engineering, and 31 per cent per researcher in social sciences and humanities.
The figures are similar for health-related fields.
The report leaders, Julia Baum; an associate professor of biology at the University of Victoria, Oded Hod; a professor at the Tel Aviv University who specializes in theoretical chemistry and nanomaterial science, and their team members gathered the perspective of over 1,300 members of the Canadian research community. They used an on-line survey to collect information for the report.
They found that the “dismantling” of funding for fundamental research has resulted in the decline of the proportion of researchers conducting fundamental research from 24 per cent in the period covering 2006 to 2010 to less than two per cent from 2011 to 2015.
The funding gap between fundamental research and applied research in Canada reached $535 million by 2015.
The researchers noted that Canada’s new Liberal government, in its 2016 federal budget, began to address this deficit by allocating $73 million to three granting councils.
Authors of the report suggested that an additional investment towards fundamental of $459 million to cover the outstanding funding gap.
Overall, 40 per cent of researchers substantially changed the focus of their research programs over the past decade, “most commonly away from fundamental research,” the report said.
“Research labs are ‘idea factories’, infusing our society and economy with new knowledge, skills, and dynamism. Our previous government’s disregard for fundamental research threatened to cut off the supply of new ideas that underlie an innovation-based economy,” said Baum. ““Fundamental research is the essential building block of new technologies and applications, but it has become virtually impossible for Canadian researchers to focus solely on this critical scientific component.”