NSERC, shine the light on smaller universities


The pursuit of knowledge, not the pursuit of finances, should matter most to those with the power to grant research funds.

An article in Times Higher Education detailed a study that found small universities in Canada face a “systematic bias” when considered for research grants from Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

“Small universities in Canada are 42 per cent less likely to secure federal research funding than their counterparts at large institutions,” read the article.    

The study’s conclusion is one symptom of a larger issue — academic funding systems often favour institutions that promise to yield economic gain over those promising intellectual discoveries. The latter should be the priority.

While it makes sense that institutions with the higher chance of generating a profitable outcome from their research proposals would make a sounder economic investment, the larger money-minded trend in research funding needs to be addressed.

If a large university and a small university each apply for research funding for similar projects, the small university should have an equal chance to support its innovators.

It’s an intellectual inequality that could snowball if we don’t address it. If NSERC systematically favours larger universities in their funding, researchers will only flock to larger institutions while those who can’t make the move will be left in the dark.

And with funding continually awarded based on institutional reputation, universities are encouraged to place a higher value on their research pedigree than teaching students.

For one thing, less funding for smaller universities also means less opportunities to hire students as research assistants.

Smaller universities hold the potential to make contributions to Canadian academia, so it’s important that NSERC values a diversity of perspectives rather than contributing to a monopoly on post-secondary research.

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