Examining international approaches to research infrastructure support – Final report

November 2014

This 2014 study report examines the seemingly simple question of the balance between federal infrastructure support and direct federal research funding in Canada, relative to four other jurisdictions—namely, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. This report shows that due to the lack of available data, and to the large variation in countries’ current needs that reflect the different historical path taken by each research system, this question is everything but simple.

Research infrastructures are key elements in science and innovation systems, helping boost scientific knowledge generation, accelerate technology development, and provide advanced training for new generations of scientists and science managers. The Canadian Expert Panel on the State of Science and Technology in Canada has noted that the nation’s S&T performance is critically dependent on access to research infrastructure and facilities alongside the more direct forms of support provided to researchers.

In Canada, the primary source of federal funding for research infrastructure is the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), a not-for-profit corporation that funds research infrastructure to strengthen the capacity of Canadian universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions. Conversely, grants for direct research are available from the Tri-Council, comprising the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Tri-Council policy specifies that these funds must be used for costs directly attributable to the approved research projects.

In support of an ongoing evaluation of the CFI, Industry Canada, the arm’s length delivery agent of research funding for the Tri-Council and CFI, determined it useful to examine six issues related to balancing direct research and infrastructure support. Broadly, these issues were as follows:

  1. Pressure to increase infrastructure funding
  2. Pace of direct vs. infrastructure support
  3. Proportion of R&D spending devoted to infrastructure
  4. Policies to address the balance
  5. Balancing new versus existing facilities
  6. Funding for maintenance and operation

This report focuses on the main federal sources of funding for all five countries examined. While many non-federal sources (e.g., the European Union, regional development agencies, states, provinces, the academic and private sectors), and even other science-based government departments and agencies, all play an infrastructure funding role, the report presents information on only the key federal funding sources.

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