OTTAWA--The Canadian government is launching a $1.5 billion program to upgrade equipment and labs at the nation's research universities. But the good news--part of the government's 1997 budget presented last week--is tempered by continuing cuts in funding for the country's research granting councils, which provide the bulk of support to university researchers.
"The infrastructure program deserves our unqualified support," says University of Western Ontario President Paul Davenport, one of several administrators who say they were "elated" by the news. Amid the euphoria, however, university officials are sobered by a third year of cuts, averaging 15% over 3 years, in the granting councils' budgets. Raising those allocations, says industry minister John Manley, is "the next step" in the budget process.
The 5-year infrastructure program will be run by a newly created independent organization, the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The government will contribute $600 million, instantly making it Canada's largest foundation, and universities must put up at least a matching share of the federal funds for any project the foundation approves. It is the first time the government has made a significant amount of money available for new research equipment and facilities at campuses nationwide.
The new effort may also lay to rest an ongoing dispute between the federal and provincial governments over who should maintain the academic research infrastructure. The dispute has left universities scrambling to recoup overhead costs that neither government entity feels it should pay. Although many observers see the foundation as a tacit admission of federal responsibility, Manley insists that the scheme sets "no more binding precedent" than earlier federal programs to improve roads or sewers within municipalities. In the meantime, science administrators are content to compete for what Medical Research Council President Henry Friesen calls "a breathtaking" new expression of federal support for science.