The 2005 Ontario budget unveiled on May 11 has been lauded for its promises of much-improved funding for post-secondary education, especially support for students and institutional operations. But what will be the effect on university research? Last week the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation at York prepared a preliminary analysis of the government’s plans.
“Ontario’s investments in post-secondary education, and knowledge creation and dissemination, are critical for York,” said Stan Shapson, vice-president research & innovation. “This year’s budget gets provincial investments in university research back on track after a year of reorganizing by the government and gives a clear indication of the importance of, and goals for, research at Ontario’s universities.”
Here are key excerpts from the VPRI analysis:
The budget priorities that have either a direct or indirect impact on the research and innovation agenda are outlined below:
Post-secondary Education (PSE)
The budget plan for PSE is entitled “Reaching Higher: The McGuinty Government Plan for Postsecondary Education” and is touted as the largest multi-year investment in 40 years. The plan focuses on access (student financial assistance, enrolment and outreach), quality (which includes “more innovative research”), accountability, and training and apprenticeships. It includes: $6.2 billion in cumulative new funding from the current fiscal through 2009-10 ($1.5 billion in student financial assistance, $4.3 billion in operating grants, $370 million in training, apprenticeships and other initiatives), representing a 39 per cent increase over funding in 2004-05.
Graduate and Medical Education
Included in the plan for PSE is a distinct focus on graduate and medical students. The budget speaks to the need to accommodate the double cohort and expand the supply of doctors in Ontario. Funding includes:
- $220 million in new funding annually by 2009-10 to provide for 14,000 additional graduate student places (12,000 additional full-time students by 2007-08).
- $95 million in new funding to increase first-year medical school places by 15 per cent by 2008-09 (this is in addition to the 56 new medical places at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine opening in September 2005).
- $100 million to create endowments at universities to provide fellowships for outstanding graduate students (this is one-time-only funding budgeted in the 2004-05 fiscal).
Research Chairs and Faculty
With the above-noted increases in the student population, the budget notes the need to increase faculty at post-secondary institutions to “accommodate higher enrolment” as well as to “improve student success”.
Faculty investments directly related to research include $25 million to endow new faculty chairs for research (“Ontario Research Chairs”) and to improve graduate education (this is one-time-only funding budgeted in the 2004-05 fiscal). The Council of Ontario Universities (COU) will manage these chairs and details should be available soon. The Chairs will focus on attracting leading-edge researchers to the province in areas of important public policy.
- $300 million over four years for research infrastructure, so that “Ontario’s universities, hospitals and research institutes can continue to attract the best and brightest, and help the economy grow”. (This was announced by the premier in the fall of 2004 to replace the Ontario Innovation Trust and represents the funds available for the province’s matching component for Canada Foundation for Innovation funding.)
- $200 million ($130 million to universities) to “begin needed repairs to college and university buildings” (this is one-time-only funding budgeted in the 2004-05 fiscal).
- Capital funding support to “ensure that medical schools and graduate departments can accommodate” the above-noted increases in students Universities will be able to apply for loans under the newly announced Ontario Strategic Infrastructure Financing Authority (OSIFA) for infrastructure “investments that support their work as world-class educators and innovators”.
Research Council of Ontario
Following on a specific recommendation within the Rae Report, the 2005 budget proposes the establishment of the Research Council of Ontario to “advise on research priorities, to help coordinate public research and to raise Ontario’s profile as an international research centre”. The budget documents also discuss the importance of creating better dialogue with industry to identify research areas and opportunities of mutual interest as a goal of the council.
Ontario Research Fund (ORF)
Since taking office the McGuinty government has been restructuring and consolidating the former government’s research programs (OIT, ORDCF, PREA, ORPF) and Ministry of Economic Development and Trade officials have been working with the research community to develop the restructured ORF. The 2005 budget officially announces the Ontario Research Fund and announces that $730 million in funding will be available through 2007-08 for new and ongoing research (This includes the $300 million noted above for research infrastructure that was announced by the premier in 2004).
Further details released in the budget concerning the ORF include:
- The ORF will provide operating, capital and overhead funding, and will also “support efforts to connect youth to researchers, and attract, develop and retain world-class research talent”.
- The ORF will give “priority” to research within “key economic sectors, including automotive, agriculture, advanced manufacturing technologies, biotechnology, information and communications, alternate energy/fuel cells, environmental technologies, and nanotechnology”.
- The budget documents confirm that the MEDT minister will “announce details of the ORF, including a call for proposals, in the near future”.
The new Cancer Research Program and the existing Ontario Cancer Research Network will be consolidated and have a funding commitment of $142 million through 2007-08 (this is previously budgeted funding and does not represent an increase). The new program will “focus on supporting leading-edge cancer research across disciplines; multidisciplinary population studies of causes; prevention and early detection of cancers; translating research into programs; technologies and therapies; and working with industry to commercialize research results.”
There were no new announcements in the 2005 budget regarding commercialization. However, the budget did reference the programs established in the 2004 budget. It is anticipated that these programs will be launched in the coming weeks.
The 2005 budget emphasises the importance of university research within regional innovation and announces the province’s 11 “Regional Innovation Networks” (RINs), which were originally part of the gpvernment’s Biotechnology Cluster Innovation Program. A diagram in the budget document recognizes our recently announced York Biotech (www.yorkbiotech.ca).
Quality and Accountability
Quality and accountability are themes that appear throughout the 2005 budget, including within discussion of PSE and research. New investments by the government “will be tied to performance and results targets” and undoubtedly some of these measures will relate to research and innovation.