Queen's needs new funding

Cuts to Ontario Research Fund has "broad implications" says vice principal

Researchers at the Fuel Cell Research Centre have been granted funds from the Ontario Research Fund in the past.
Researchers at the Fuel Cell Research Centre have been granted funds from the Ontario Research Fund in the past.

$42 million in provincial research grants will be abandoned over the next three years.

“Queen’s was notified along with other universities without really any understanding of the rationale or any timeline with respect to when it was actually going to be cut,” vice-principal of research Steven Liss said.

In the weeks prior to winter break, Liss said the Council of Ontario Universities, a policy and lobbying group, delivered the message.

“In previous times when there have been changes to programs we will have been given a call directly by the ministry ahead of a public announcement,” Liss said.

On Jan. 7, the Toronto Star reported that the decision to remove the funds had been made without public knowledge. “When the news hit the Toronto Star, that was old news for us, we had known for about a month or so,” Liss said.

The Ontario Research Fund (ORF) provides a total of $730 million over four years to a variety of projects.

Last year, Queen’s School of Computing and the Fuel Cell Research Centre received nearly $4.8 million from the fund.

“In the absence of ORF funding, we’re aware of the other opportunities and so with industry matching funding we’re exploring other opportunities,” he said.

One way Queen’s can ensure that financial cutbacks have a minimal impact is through increased inter-university collaboration, Liss said.

“One of the ways to be competitive but to be sufficiently strategic in terms of our long-term strategy would be to make sure that we’re collaborative,” he said.

Four projects receiving ORF funding last year involved collaborations between Queen’s and other universities.

“In a competitive funding program, it’s always hit and miss,” he said. “So you’re never guaranteed.” Liss said due to Queen’s smaller size, the University could suffer more than universities with a larger pool of resources.

“I think it has broad implications for all research-intensive universities and how we support our researchers,” he said.

Queen’s is also currently looking to increase international partnerships.

“The truth is we have a window to the world through these companies and they are connected globally too, through other academic institutions,” he said, adding that current partnerships include ones within Environmental and IT fields.

While cuts like these impact Queen’s in the longer term, Liss said it’s important to keep a bigger picture in mind.

“We’ve got to be careful here,” Liss said. “Funding is important, but the endgame is to advance our research and if we can do that on an international, global basis, I think the funding follows.”

Ontario Minister of Economic Development Brad Duguid said the cuts were made with reluctance. These funds will now go towards the Eastern Economic Development Fund and the Southwestern Economic Development Fund, designed for businesses and economic developers.

“It’s really important though that we keep this in perspective, we’re talking about $42 million over the next three or four years,” he said. “We have to make some of these choices to ensure that every dollar we’re spending is getting the maximum return in terms of job creation.”

Duguid said there is no connection between the funding cuts and the new 30 per cent off Ontario tuition fund.

“The only connection between the two announcements is that a newspaper decides to write about it in and around the same time,” he said.

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