Members of the Finance Committee,
It is a great pleasure to be with you once again to brief you on the activities of the Canada Foundation for Innovation. It is a pleasure to express our appreciation to you for your continuing support of the Foundation, but also for the many steps you have taken in reinforcing the ability of Canada’s non-government, not-for-profit, research-performing institutions across Canada to perform leading research. With the creation of the CFI in 1997, followed by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canada Research Chairs, the start of support for indirect costs and even a start on a graduate student scholarship fund, you have changed Canada’s research agenda. In doing these things, you have empowered the institutions and their researchers in many ways to go for the gold.
My comments will be in the form of answers to a few questions.
1. How was the CFI established?
An Act of Parliament in 1997 created the CFI and funded us as an arm’s length foundation scheduled to function until this year. In the intervening years, new funding was provided and our lifetime was extended to 2010. Clearly, we were meeting a need and meeting it well. We were set up to provide research tools and to support up to 40% of their cost.
2. Who are the CFI clients?
The CFI clients are the institutions we referred to above. In order to be successful, they have had to develop institutional research plans and find partners to support the remaining 60%. This, they have been able to do, including provincial and municipal governments, as well as the private sector and the voluntary sector. We are the first agency to support colleges.
3. What has the CFI received?
CFI has been awarded $3.15B in support of its mandate for the period 1998 (first award) to 2010. With interest, we will be able to award about $4B, triggering a total investment of close to $10B.
4. What are the CFI programs?
The CFI programs are all merit-based and based on competition. CFI provides enabling technologies to the client institutions that permit them to play a major role in Canada’s innovation agenda.
- New Opportunities: for new faculty appointments
- Innovation Fund: to provide equipment and facilities to meet institutional opportunities
- Infrastructure Operating Funds: to contribute to the operation of the facilities
- Canada Research Chairs: we support equipment for these new appointments
- International Funds: to permit Canadians to attract major international partnerships and/or provide Canadians access to unique international facilities. These are designed to link the best with the best.
To date, 1975 projects valued at $1.75 billion (CFI share of well over $4B total) have been awarded.
5. How have CFI’s institutional clients decided what to compete for?
They prepare and publish research plans that then guide them in selecting projects to submit for CFI evaluation. This has caused them to focus on building on, or achieving excellence.
6. Have CFI’s clients been able to raise matching funds?
No projects have failed for lack of matching funds. Institutions have been remarkably effective at encouraging their provincial governments to assist them in providing matching funds. In fact, it is because there is no federal government involvement and because the decisions by CFI are merit based that the program is so successful.
7. What is the selection process?
CFI’s decision processes are merit based and depend on expert review and panels. To date, we have used over 2000 reviewers, many from outside Canada, and depended on panels to provide advice. While there are concerns from those whose projects have been rejected, the process is widely accepted as a process with integrity as well as the perception of integrity. The criteria for selection are widely published.
8. What is the distribution of CFI awards in dollars and numbers?
Institutions in all parts of the country, institutions large and small, have quite similar success rates. The excellence that CFI is seeking is found in all of these institutions. Remarkably, the distribution outcome is similar to that achieved in their competition for granting council funds.
9. What have the client institutions been able to achieve with CFI assistance?
We require institutional and project annual progress reports. These reports document a remarkable resurgence of excellence and enthusiasm. They are attracting and retaining outstanding faculty and graduate students. It is clear that Canada is able to recruit the very best. These institutions are based in communities large and small, from coast to coast, and they are doing a great deal to assist their communities to move to the knowledge-based society.
10. What is the role of the CFI client institutions in commercialization and in cluster development?
Canadian institutions are competitive with their American counterparts (i.e. per research dollar). They are highly productive. The differences with the U.S. can largely be attributed to the receptor capacity in Canada. There are many clusters already in Canada. These are centred around universities, hospitals, colleges, etc. which are the single most important element in clusters. These institutions are based in communities across Canada and are often seen by the municipalities as central to their own evolving vision.
11. Does CFI need to identify discipline priorities?
There are many vested interest groups that would like to influence CFI to select their preferred topics. However, by reviewing the approximately 100 research plans, it is clear that the institutions have themselves identified key research areas of significance to Canada - e.g. information technology, nanotechnology, genomics, biotechnology, materials science and many others.
12. How do we monitor the impact of CFI, document the outcomes and demonstrate value for money?
CFI has many forms of accountability and operates in a highly transparent manner. In additional to the formal audit conducted by a private sector firm, we carry out regular reviews and evaluations that are widely disseminated. We authorize regular reviews and evaluations by third parties. We require institutions to submit and publish research plans and progress reports. These are all submitted to the Minister by the terms of our funding agreement, so that he can monitor the outcomes of CFI investments and the value for money being achieved with CFI assistance. And we regularly appear at House Committee hearings.
13. Have new governance models emerged?
The CFI itself is a new governance model that is widely praised and respected and is being emulated. As the government has empowered more and more non-government research performers, many new governance models have emerged at the institutional level. Typically, these involve groups of universities, hospitals and colleges choosing to work together, often on a pan Canadian basis. In other cases, the private sector, provincial or federal agencies are choosing to join these alliances. The addition of government laboratories and government procurement policies (often to universities) can add to this powerful mix. It is interesting to observe that today, one university (Toronto) and its affiliated hospitals, with competitively won outside research funding of over $400M, together with their own expenditures, is now the largest research performing institution in Canada. It has surpassed even the National Research Council. Others are not far behind.
14. Are there concerns and complaints about CFI?
There are certainly some, especially from those who were not successful in the rigorous competition. Some smaller institutions feel disadvantaged, but their overall success rate is about the same as the larger institutions. Some regions feel disadvantaged over others, but success rates are similar in all parts of the country.
15. What do the CFI client institutions need if they are going to play their role in branding Canada and in helping Canada to reach the top five countries in GERD/GDP by 2010?
The federal government needs to stay the course in supporting the full costs of research in these institutions. This includes CFI, Canada Research Chairs, indirect costs and graduate scholarships at the institutional level, and increases to the granting councils at the researcher level. Much has been accomplished. The job is not finished yet. CFI is responding to needs and will need further attention in the coming months - including infrastructure operating costs, Canada Research Chairs and the International Program as these programs come to an end in the near future.
16. What will it take for CFI to maintain the momentum to 2010?
CFI is playing a major role in helping Canada to go for the gold. We are helping Canadian institutions to combat the brain drain and keep and attract the best from around the world. Articles about CFI or CFI supported research activities appear frequently and increasingly in national, international and even airline magazines. The institutions and their researchers are now confident that Canada can rise to the challenge of being among the best in the world and they are competing globally with the assistance of CFI and other agencies. You have started the ball rolling. The research community has risen to the challenge. You have to stay the course. Economic prosperity and quality of life for all requires no less.