Ottawa commits dollars to research

by Stephen Forgacs
Staff writer

The creation of an $800 million foundation in the 1997 federal budget shows a firm commitment by government to building Canada's research and development capabilities, said Bernard Bressler, UBC vice-president, Research.

"This is extremely favourable for the country's research community," Bressler said. "It sends a clear message that the government has linked the long-term recovery and sustainability of our economy with research and development."

The government announced the creation of the Canada Foundation for Innovation to provide financial support for the modernization of research infrastructure at post-secondary educational institutions and research hospitals.

The foundation, which will operate as an independent corporation, will be responsible for dispensing about $180 million annually over five years.

"Since UBC is such a research-intensive university, the creation of the foundation seems very promising," said Bressler. "We will use this as a unique opportunity to enhance the infrastructure that supports research at UBC."

The funds provided to the foundation will cover capital costs involved in modernizing the infrastructure needed to do research in the areas of health, environment, science and engineering. This includes acquiring state-of-the-art equipment, establishing computer and communications networks, and creating research databases and information-processing capabilities. Funds will also cover upgrading of laboratories and installations or, in some cases, new construction.

Shirley Neuman, dean of the Faculty of Arts, also applauded the creation of the foundation.

"Much of what one does in the area of health research requires consideration of the social and human impact and that is certainly a strength in this faculty," she said. "You can't do really successful work about the environment either without considering human and social factors, and I think that the sciences are increasingly recognizing that."

Neuman said that the foundation's stated emphasis on research infrastructure, including information technology, is also good news for the faculty.

"There is a lot of opportunity there if we recognize that the data that information technology transmits is not just numbers or even language, but that the visual and aural presentation of data is also information -- information that demands expertise from the creative arts to be effective."

The foundation will not fund "operating" costs of research, such as salaries, regular maintenance or the ongoing operation of facilities. The foundation will accept applications from universities and colleges engaged in research, research hospitals, and associated non-profit organizations.

The budget provides students with short-term financial help in the form of an increased education credit (from $100 to $150 per month this year, climbing to $200 per month in 1998) and an extended period of interest relief (from 18 to 30 months) for students who borrowed under the Canada Student Loan Program. Also, ancillary fees will be tax exempt and share the same tax status as tuition.

UBC Alma Mater Society (AMS) representatives acknowledged the positive aspects of the budget, but condemned reduced federal support for Canadian social programs.

"The few plums that have been given to students in this budget aren't even partial compensation for the enormous cuts to education this government has inflicted on students over the past few years," said Desmond Rodenbour, AMS policy analyst.

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) said Finance Minister Paul Martin failed to provide for the long-term financial needs of students by not providing a comprehensive student financial assistance package, including special opportunity grants for students with parental responsibilities. The CFS did, however, welcome the creation of the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

"This new investment in science and research cannot possibly compensate for the billions of dollars in transfer payments for post-secondary education that were cut in previous budgets, but it remains a very significant announcement," said Brad Lavigne, the federation's national chairperson. "In concrete terms, it will allow universities to rebuild and renovate their science and research facilities without straining their operating grants, a move that should lessen the urge to increase tuition fees yet again."