Research is an important aspect of both the mission of universities and the academic workload. In an environment of reduced funding for operating budgets and capital assets, research activities enable universities to increase their overall budget. As a result, research has become the marker of university distinction and international visibility, which has led to fierce competition to secure additional resources and attract professors who have the most funding.
This document, which draws mainly from Système d’information sur la recherche universitaire (SIRU) data from the 2003–2004 to 2009–2010 academic years, provides an overview of the overall external research funding in Quebec universities. Over this period, such funding decreased, in constant 2009-2010 dollars, going from $1.54 billion to $1.45 billion, while the number of professors rose by 9.34%. The average research budget per professor decreased by 15% over the period in question. A review of the changes in sources of funding and concentration of funds by institution, discipline, and project over the seven years being studied allows for the possibility of making a number of other observations.
Although the overall decrease in available research funding is troubling, its concentration makes the situation even more alarming. Over the period in question, universities with faculties of medecine, namely, Université Laval, Université de Montréal, McGill University, and Université de Sherbrooke, received more than 75% of the funding allocated to research, while employing only 60% of Quebec’s professors.
A concentration of funding on major research fields can also be observed. From 2003-2004 to 2009-2010, 33% of funding was allocated to pure and applied sciences, from 39% to 46.5% of funding was allocated to research in the health sciences, and the humanities and social sciences received from 12.5% to 17% of available funds. This situation is worrisome: from 70% to 85% of research grants are used to hire graduate students and professional researchers, and the humanities and social sciences attracted 55% of the student body in terms of full-time equivalents (FTEs). This means that the concentration of funding on health sciences and pure and applied sciences is associated with greater difficulty with regard to training the next generation of humanities and social science researchers.
The third effect of such a concentration can be seen when considering the research funding allocated to Quebec professors from external sources. In 2009–2010, 10% of the funded projects received 60% of the funding ($855 million), while the other 90% received the remaining share of the funding ($595 million). In addition, the granting agencies’ choice to allocate more generous grants to a small fraction of researchers also leads to a reduced success rate for public granting agency competitions.
The FQPPU thinks that this strategy is counterproductive for Quebec society, since many talented researchers waste their time and valuable resources completing grant applications, which are then thrown out. To counter the effects of this funding concentration on specific institutions, disciplines, and projects, an overall research allowance should be added to university operating funds and be paid annually to each professor. This $10 000 grant would be primarily directed toward the regular hiring of students and research professionals, ensuring that each professor could conduct research on an ongoing basis. This would not only advance knowledge, but also strengthen the teaching component of the professorial workload. This measure, which would require an additional $100 million on the part of the Quebec government, would represent an increase in the annual operating budget of universities of less than 2%.
With respect to sources of funding, from the 2003–2004 to the 2009–2010 academic years, nearly one half of research funding came from the federal government. Besides the irony of the Quebec government withdrawing from an area under its jurisdiction, the fact that federal government funding, in recent years, has been almost entirely targeted at the needs of businesses requires that balance be restored. To ensure that research in Quebec improves, the Quebec government must commit to meeting the objective it set in 2013 that 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP) be allocated to research and innovation.
In addition, the disengagement of the private sector from research funding in Quebec—its share dropped from 19.9% to 17.5% over the period in question—illustrates the failure of the strategy to encourage private sector investment by investing public funds into research and development (R&D). While the health sciences sector serves as an exception, the private sector having contributed a share of 31 % of research funding in this area, it is because its profits are more directly attainable.
This calls for an increased share of research funding from the private sector to be obtained through the tax system, in order to better distribute such profits among different fields.
Finally, while this report deals with research funding first and foremost, it is necessary to be reminded of the importance of academic freedom. Professors must be free to carry out research that they deem relevant and to publish their results without any restrictions, no matter the source of funding they receive. In addition, they must be able to carry out their work independent of pressure groups, special interest groups, churches, governments, and financial authorities.