The federal government of Canada is releasing its annual budget Tuesday. Rumour has it that this budget will have a significant focus on science, and on women. Both of these issues are of interest to us. We are scientists, and because we are early in our careers as professors and research scientists, we have a higher proportion of women than more senior cohorts.
About ACECHR. Our purpose has been and continues to be to advocate for a healthy, equitable, sustainable health research enterprise. We have been engaging actively with federal science funding policy since we formed in 2016 in response to changes in health research funding. We have worked with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and with officials from the federal government to address projected inequities in health research funding for early career and mid-career investigators and for investigators who are women. Results from grant funding competitions with and without the policies we advocated show that without these policies, gaps in funding would be even worse than they are. We have also advocated for evidence-based investment in research through social media campaigns and--together with organizations like Evidence for Democracy, Science & Policy Exchange, and large groups of researchers across fields--supported researchers meeting with elected representatives to discuss evidence-based science policy.
About the Naylor report. Our group formed around concerns with changes at CIHR. Many of our members were invited to several different meetings with the Fundamental Science Review, most notably the panels focusing on early career researchers and on equity. Like many in the scientific community, we were concerned when the members of the Fundamental Science Review were announced and were almost entirely former administrators, not active scientists. However, we were pleased to read their measured, evidence-based report, grounded in a solid understanding of how science and research function. We looked forward (and continue to look forward) to the federal government acting on the advice they had requested.
About our report card. We will be assessing the budget on how well this government does on six items:
Overall grade on evidence-based science policy. Our overall impression of this government’s commitment to implementing the evidence-based report they commissioned and investing in the future of Canadian science.
Here is a one-page brief to help researchers (and others, if desired) contact the Minister of Finance and express support for increased funding for TriCouncil.
Increased TriCouncil funding was a key recommendation of the Fundamental Science Review commissioned by the federal government.
CIHR recently announced more changes to their open grant programs:
CIHR stated: "To ensure that ECIs are not disadvantaged by this new restriction, CIHR will continue its policy of equalizing the success rates of ECIs in the Project Grant program (i.e., the success rate of ECIs will be equal to the proportion of ECIs who applied). This equalization should ensure that a comparable number of ECIs still receive funding."
This equalization policy was already in place in the Project Grants program and will simply be continued within that program. Cutting ECIs out of the other open program represents a potential net loss of funding to ECIs.
To ensure equity for ECIs going forward, we estimate that there should be approximately 50 additional funded ECI grants in the Project grants competition this year. We expect that CIHR’s commitment to intervene if necessary will include ensuring that this increased share in Project Grants is reflected. Otherwise, this new policy will increase damage to young investigators by further reducing overall funds available to ECIs.
We also continue to strongly recommend equalization for mid-career investigators (MCIs). The group of 50–60 scientists that met last summer on July 13, 2016 recognized the importance of supporting both ECIs and MCIs. Failure to move forward on this disappointed our national co-chairs who served on the Peer Review Working Group. Mid-career is a stage of enormous innovation and productivity. Let’s make use of that potential to improve the health of Canadians and the quality and sustainability of the Canadian health systems.
 ECIs previously received 5% (Foundation 1) to 13% (Foundation 2) of total funds allocated to Foundation. Taking the average of these two competitions (9%) and the new allocation to Foundation ($125M), this new policy is removing around $11M from ECIs. Note that we also look forward to hearing CIHR’s proposed plans for an off-ramp for those ECIs and others holding Foundation grants, given that the program is being scaled down considerably. ECIs who received a Foundation grant in the 2014-2015 competition are now in budget year 3 of their 5-year grants. They need a way to move forward.
 Based on mean grant size in the last Project grant competition (about $670K), $125M represents approximately 185 Project grants. ECIs submitted 22.7% of applications in the last Project grant competition and ECI grants tend to be smaller. Therefore, if this $125M were awarded as Project grants under the equalization policy, the ECI share would be in the neighbourhood of 50 additional grants. In the context of the new Foundation/Project split, equalization within the Project grant competition may result in that many additional ECI grants. If it fails to do so, we expect to see CIHR intervene immediately.