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$1.3B in new money and new thinking needed, federal science review concludes

A blue-ribbon panel charged with reviewing the state of science in Canada for the first time in 40 years says the system urgently needs new money — but also new thinking.

The federal science panel is calling for $ 1.3 billion in new money and an overhaul to the way research is overseen.

The panel recommends the creation of a new national advisory council on research and innovation, as well as a co-ordinating board for Canada’s research agencies.

The independent nine-member panel was struck last June by federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan to find better ways to make the most of funding given to three research granting councils and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

Their report, released today, says the biggest gaps in the system are in resources and aspirations.

The panel says what they call the research ecosystem is unbalanced, and the major federal agencies don’t work together as well as they should.

“We are firmly convinced that by strengthening the foundations of Canadian research, this government can make an immediate and major difference to the prospects of future generations,” the report concludes.

The panel was led by David Naylor, the former president of the University of Toronto, and received over 1,200 submissions during its work, which also included a dozen roundtables in five cities with 230 researchers.

The study focused on 10 different questions related to the funding of scientific research, supporting the next generation of emerging researchers, and whether or not there’s a healthy balance between who is getting funded and ensuring a full range of research is being carried out.

Under the previous government in particular, there was a shift away from independent science and scholarly inquiry and towards what the panel called innovation-facing and priority-driven programs.

Between 2007-08 and 2015-16, the budget for investigator-led research fell by three per cent while that for priority-driven research rose by 35 per cent, the report found.

The landscape needs both of what the panel called redwoods and mayflowers.

“Panel members fully appreciate the importance of innovation to Canada’s prosperity and are sympathetic to elite programming that seeks to reward and amplify excellence,” the report says.

“However, the stronger research ecosystems place a high priority on the basic and natural life sciences and on free-ranging inquiry in the humanities and social sciences.”

The new money the panel recommends — increasing the current spend from $ 3.5 billion to $ 4.8 billion by 2022 — would be spread between direct research projects, operating funds for research facilities, scholarships and fellowships and facilities and administrations costs.

CBC | Health News