OTTAWA--After 3 years of cutting science budgets more severely than any government in Canadian history, the governing Liberals have moved to restore to 1995 levels the budgets of the country's three research granting councils. Yesterday's announcement, part of the prime minister's overall budget submission, is being hailed by academic officials as an important "first step" in ending a dangerous slide in public R&D investment. "It's a breakthrough budget for universities," says Western Ontario President Paul Davenport.
The biggest beneficiary is the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, whose budget will rise from US$304 million to $346 million in the next fiscal year. The Medical Research Council will get a $20 million boost, to $187 million, while the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council lags behind, its budget going up $5 million to $71 million. Although the percentage increases range from 7% to 13.8% between councils, Industry Minister John Manley says the differences result from a decision to give each council the same share of the overall research pie this year as it received in 1995.
The increases are a product of a strong Canadian economy that has made it possible for the government to draw up the country's first balanced budget in 29 years. And while the increases will provide much-needed relief to the councils, they won't offset the effects of inflation during that period and aren't quite as generous as the government claims. Ottawa says that the councils' budgets will be boosted by $280 million--but that's a sum over 3 years of flat budgets. In reality, the councils will receive increases adding up to $67 million this year, and $14 million more over the next 2 years.
University presidents also praised the creation of a $1.75 billion millennium scholarship fund that will dispense $2100-a-year scholarships to 100,000 students annually over the next decade. The fund is expected to have a component aimed at attracting students into science and engineering.