Mandate of the Advisory Panel for the Review of Federal Support for Fundamental Science

The panel was provided with the following overall questions to consider as part of its review:

  1. Are there any overall program gaps in Canada's fundamental research funding ecosystem that need to be addressed?
  2. Are there elements or programming features in other countries that could provide a useful example for the Government of Canada in addressing these gaps?

Funding of fundamental research

The central question regarding the effectiveness and impact of the granting councils in supporting excellence in fundamental research is whether their approach, governance and operations have kept pace with an ever-changing domestic and global research landscape. Key questions for the review were:

  1. Are granting councils optimally structured and aligned to meet the needs of the current research community in Canada? Are the current programs the most effective means of delivering the objectives of these organizations? And are they keeping pace internationally? The review should take into account the several reviews and evaluations that were performed in recent years on the councils and on science and scholarly inquiry in Canada.
  2. Are students, trainees and emerging researchers, including those from diverse backgrounds, facing unique barriers within the current system and, if so, what can be done to address those barriers?
  3. Is there an appropriate balance between funding elements across the research system, i.e. between elements involving people and other direct research costs, operating costs, infrastructure and indirect costs? What are best practices for assessing and adjusting balances over time?
  4. Are existing review processes rigorous, fair and effective in supporting excellence across all disciplines? Are they rigorous, fair and effective in supporting riskier research and proposals in novel or emerging research areas or multidisciplinary/multinational areas?
  5. Are granting council programs and structures sufficiently flexible to reflect and accommodate the growing internationalization of research? Are granting council programs and structures accommodating the full range of research areas; multidisciplinary research; and new approaches ranging from traditional knowledge, including indigenous research, to more open, collaborative forms of research? If not, what steps could be taken?

Funding of facilities/equipment

  1. Is the Canada Foundation for Innovation optimally structured to meet the needs of the current research community in Canada? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current model in delivering the objectives of this organization, including its ability to work complementarily with the granting councils? What is the appropriate federal role in supporting infrastructure operating costs and how effective are current mechanisms in fulfilling that role?
  2. What are best practices (internationally/domestically) for supporting big science (including, inter alia, international facilities and international collaboration)?
  3. Many requests for government support for research are not tied to the cycles of the four major research agencies, but they have economic or competitive relevance nationally or regionally, or major non-governmental financial support, or implications for Canada's international standing as an active participant in big science projects or major multi-institutional projects. How can we ensure that the Government has access to the best advice about funding these types of projects in the future?

Funding of platform technologies

  1. What types of criteria and considerations should inform decisions regarding whether the Government should create a separate funding mechanism for emerging platform technologies and research areas of broad strategic interest and societal application? Are there any technologies that would appear to meet such criteria in the immediate term? When there is a rationale for separate funding, how to ensure alignment of funding approaches?
  2. Today's emerging platform technology may rapidly become a standard tool used tomorrow by a wide variety of researchers. If such technologies are initially given stand-alone support via a dedicated program or agency, what factors should inform decisions on when it would be appropriate to "mainstream" such funding back into the granting councils?

Additional advice

The panel consulted widely with the research community and solicited input from relevant stakeholders—including universities, colleges and polytechnics, research hospitals, research institutes, industry, civil society—and the general public representing the diversity of views from across Canada. The panel received 1,275 written submissions from individuals, associations and organizations. It also held a dozen round tables in five cities, engaging some 230 researchers at different career stages.

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