U of T welcomes federal budget's investments in research and innovation

woman working in an EV lab at University of Toronto Scarborough campus

 (photo by Matthew Dochstader/Paradox Images)

The University of Toronto is welcoming measures in Tuesday’s federal budget that boost research programs and support a new generation of talent across Canada, strengthening the country’s innovation ecosystem and knowledge economy.

The spring 2024 budget, announced by Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, allocates more than $3 billion in investments in Canada’s research ecosystem over the next five years. 

This includes increases to the tri-council funding agency budgets, additional support for master’s and PhD students and post-doctoral fellows, and more money for major research infrastructure projects – a clear recognition that universities are drivers of economic growth and can find solutions to the challenges facing Canada and the world. 

“Today’s budget is a very significant and welcome recognition of the critical role the research ecosystem plays in driving Canada’s productivity and prosperity,” said U of T President Meric Gertler.

“It builds on this government’s earlier investments in research and innovation, and helps secure Canada’s global competitiveness for future generations.”

The budget’s key elements for the post-secondary sector include an increase of 30 per cent, across five years, in Canada’s three research funding agencies: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

The budget also invests $825 million in support of master’s and PhD students and post-doctoral fellows, boosting the value of these scholarships and fellowships significantly, and adding a further 1,720 students or fellows each year. 

“In the knowledge economy, the global market for ... ideas is highly competitive and we need to make sure talented people have the right incentives to do their groundbreaking research here in Canada,” the budget document states.

In addition, the budget lays out a plan for the creation of an advisory Council on Science and Innovation, which will be tasked with setting priorities and boosting the impact of federal investments in science and innovation. And it proposes the creation of a new capstone research funding organization to optimize the impact of the federally funded research councils.

The budget also earmarks $2.4 billion, previously announced, to consolidate Canada’s competitive edge in AI – a field where U of T researchers are playing a leading role.

The measures come as post-secondary institutions in Ontario grapple with a challenging financial environment and follows growing calls across Canada for reinvestment in research and innovation.

U of T is a member of the Coalition for Canadian Research, which has urged the federal government to increase support for research to enhance Canada’s competitiveness as a destination for top talent and accelerate Canadian researchers’ efforts in tackling pressing national and global challenges.

“Canada has many strengths in this new strategic race, including unparalleled access to talent, an increasingly successful commercialization pipeline from researchers to business, and a federal government focused on developing the industries of tomorrow,” Leah Cowen, U of T’s vice-president, research and innovation, and strategic initiatives, noted in a May 2023 column for The Hill Times

In October, the coalition – whose members include post-secondary institutions as well as research hospitals, life sciences companies, charities, students and early-career researchers – released an open letter calling for “ambitious reinvestment” to support Canada’s research and innovation ecosystem amid an increasingly competitive global landscape and rising societal and economic challenges.

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