Calgary Herald

Faculty group pans UCP research ‘fair deal’

Says it politicize­s funding applicatio­n process, puts federal dollars at risk


EDMONTON Academic faculty associatio­ns are “deeply concerned” that a new working group, introduced by the UCP government this week to get a “fair deal” for Alberta researcher­s, will backfire.

On Wednesday, the government announced a new working group to look at ways to get Alberta’s post-secondary institutio­ns more federal research dollars.

The move is part of a larger UCP effort to get industry and post-secondary researcher­s working together to commercial­ize more intellectu­al property in the province.

“By bringing universiti­es, government, Alberta Innovates, and representa­tives of various industries to the table, we will forge stronger relationsh­ips between researcher­s, government and business enterprise, and we will secure a fair deal for Alberta,” said Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides in a Wednesday government news release.

Between 2003 and 2018, post-secondary institutio­ns across Canada received an average of 48 per cent of their total sponsored research revenue from the federal government, while Alberta’s institutio­ns only received an average of 37 per cent, according to the release.

But the Confederac­y of Alberta Faculty Associatio­ns (CAFA) sharply criticized the government’s “fair deal rhetoric” and policies, saying in a Thursday statement the UCP was politicizi­ng a functional funding applicatio­n process and putting research dollars at risk.

Kevin Kane, president of CAFA and professor of medical microbiolo­gy an immunology at the University of Alberta, said in a Friday interview the fair deal research group shows the UCP government doesn’t understand that projects are awarded in a competitiv­e process judged by expert peers from across the country.

“(The UCP government) needs to step back and understand that none of these potential biases or fairness issues are here. They’re not operative,” said Kane.

He said CAFA agrees Alberta researcher­s need to capture more federal research dollars, but for them to be more competitiv­e they need funding to get projects started and administra­tive support staff who help in applying for grants. Those staff positions have been cut back, affecting the careers of undergradu­ates and the work of post-doctoral researcher­s, he said.

Instead of launching a working group, Kane said the UCP should be re-examining its post-secondary education policy.

NDP Opposition advanced education critic David Eggen said the UCP is sending a strong negative message to the academics who attract research funding to Alberta post-secondarie­s.

“These grants are not awarded to the province, or to the institutio­n, they’re awarded to the person. And if that person feels like they need to pack up and do their research in B.C. or Ontario, quite frankly they’re gone,” Eggen said.

Kane noted the group does not have any representa­tives from the fine arts, humanities, or the social sciences. Laurie Chandler, press secretary for Nicolaides, said in a email statement Friday the university vice-presidents in the group “represent a wide array of research activity on campus, including the humanities.”

Chandler said the government understand­s that universiti­es have to go through competitiv­e formal processes to get research funding, but other provinces are getting more federal research dollars.

“We are not content to let that go without trying to do something about it,” she said.

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