CFI pumps $24 million more into innovation

An independent research granting body has announced that it will give close to $24 million to 35 post-secondary institutions as part of a new program it created to help attract and retain researchers in Canada.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), which was created by the previous federal government, on Monday announced the recipients of its Leaders Opportunity Fund (LOF program). Recipients of the LOF program, which replaces the New Opportunities Fund, include Acadia University, McGill University, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, University of Calgary and University of British Columbia. The multi-million dollar investment was approved by the CFI’s board of directors and is broken down into two categories: $19.7 million under the LOF program and $3.9 million under the Infrastructure Operating Fund program, a one-time chunk of funding that covers operational costs incurred during a project. A breakdown of the funding can be found on the CFI’s site at innovation.ca.

The money will go towards 145 researchers and 130 projects that span from the environment to biomedicine to social studies to information technology.

“All governments in Westernized countries are investing in their science and technology enterprises,” said Dr. Eliot Phillipson, president and CEO of the CFI. “They all understand in a global knowledge-based economy, research and innovation are critical.”

Phillipson added the government’s investment in R&D, particularly at the college and universities level, is one of the highest among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

Judith Chadwick, director of government research infrastructure programs at the University of Toronto, which received $2.3 million, echoed Phillipson’s comments, adding that the CFI has been a boost to the quality of research facilities and projects that it has been able to offer.

“Before CFI and the provincial partner programs came into play, the environment in Canada and Ontario in particular was not great for research,” said Chadwick. “It was becoming increasingly difficult because we couldn’t make promises to people about supporting their research programs and giving them the resources.”

Likewise, John Tennant, CEO of Waterloo, Ont.-based Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc. said the federal and provincial governments’ initiatives are a major boost to Canada’s economy and to attracting top-notch researchers.

“The programs have certainly been noticed around the world — not just in academic circles but elsewhere as signal that Canada is serious about research, development and positioning itself well in the knowledge-based industries,” said Tennant.

While governments have stepped up their funding for post-secondary institution — the Ontario government last week in its budget announced $100 million for two Waterloo-based institutes — they could be doing more still, said Tennant.

“The investment that is made in postsecondary institutions in Canada is not at a level that puts us sufficiently in the league with the U.S. and other countries,” said Tennant. “We get very good value for what we invest, but no question we could be investing more.”

Additional funding will be difficult when the CFI eventually runs out of money in 2010, said Chadwick, adding that the body has already told the research community how they’re going to spend the rest of the money.

“Although it’s not imminent, we can see it,” she said. “The minute that you can see the end of the road, people we’re trying to attract and recruit now they can see that too.”

U of T will spend its CFI money on 11 projects, including stem cell research, planetary studies and developing social brains. While U of T received the most funding out of all the recipients (Universite de Montreal received $2.1 million and the Universtiy of Western Ontario received $1.6 million), Chadwick said it’s good to see that the money isn’t only going to institutions that focus on medical-related sciences but also physical and social sciences. This includes the University of Waterloo, which received $159,000 towards its underwater sampling technology project, which is currently being used to help reclaim the marshes in Iraq that were drained by former ousted leader, Saddam Hussein.

Forty per cent of the CFI’s funding goes towards an institution’s research projects with an additional 40 coming from the province, leaving the remaining portion to be funded by the institution itself or the private sector, said Phillipson. Universities can apply for the LOF program four times a year and are judged on certain criteria, including merit and how well the project is aligned to the university’s research mandate.

U of T’s Chadwick said the new program is much easier to apply to than its predecessor, the New Opportunities Fund.

“Some of the CFI programs are national programs and you work for months to a year on the application and you have no idea of the outcome,” she said. “With this program you receive an institutional allocation and you submit applications against that allocation and they’re judged against a standard of excellence.”

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