The provincial government’s decision to cut $66 million dollars in research funding for universities and hospitals has left U of T’s researchers scrambling to find other ways to fund their studies.
“We’re disappointed but understanding,” said Peter Lewis, U of T’s associate vice-president of research. “You only have to take a look in the papers to see the financial situation of the province.”
The government has withdrawn the funding to reallocate it to the Eastern and Southwestern Economic Development Funds, which will help businesses create jobs, and subsidize training, equipment, and technology for workers, as stated on the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs website. The government chose to move the funds to something they felt would more reliably stimulate Ontario’s economy.
“We have to put an emphasis on those things we think most directly help grow the economy and create jobs,” said premier Dalton McGuinty to the Toronto Star.
U of T and its affiliated hospitals receive roughly $1 billion annually for research. Of that amount, roughly $200 million goes towards operating costs, an area which the Ontario Research Excellence Fund — the fund that the government has now cancelled — helped supplement.
In the last round of funding, U of T received $8 million over three years. Lewis estimates this made up roughly five per cent of operating cost.
“It’s not a huge amount, but it’s kind of the lifeblood for research, so when it’s reduced there’s an impact,” said Lewis. “If you had to, had to make a cut, this one makes the most sense.”
The removal of financial backing will only affect newly proposed studies looking for funding, not ongoing research.
“These are grants that are applied for new projects. New projects definitely won’t happen, but it won’t be at the expense of closing down old projects,” Lewis said.
A December 13 letter from the Ontario Council of University Research to Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development and Innovation, expressed the concern and disappointment of researchers and highlighted the impact that the cut will have on Ontario’s economy.
According to the letter, “Cancelling [the research fund] will affect the development of new ideas and discoveries that feed the economic development pipeline in Ontario, both now and in the future.”
It also discussed the impact the cut has on researchers, especially since this year’s funding round and application procedures have already begun.
“Applications to funds take a great deal of commitment, time, and effort on the part of many individuals, both inside and outside our universities. In many cases, because round six was already well underway, teams had already been pulled together, partners had been engaged, and applications were written.”
Janet Madill, research advisor and transplant dietician at the University Health Network, expressed more concern for graduate students than for her own study.
“Less money means less opportunities for graduate students. We’ll have to decrease what we are asking for in order to help obtain students,” she said. “Students may obtain less money and therefore have fewer opportunities and fewer opportunities to live in Toronto due to increased cost of living. They may not apply to U of T.”
Madill, who is now researching oxidative stress and transplantation, calcium, and vitamin D in relation to obesity, said a lot of research funding opportunities that were available to her have closed, and that many researchers might have to redirect or limit their research in order to fit requirements.
Lewis said that University of Toronto research is doing what they can to support their researchers.
“We work very hard to support our researchers and encourage them to apply to other opportunities. We’ll do everything we can to minimize the damage.”