A funding crunch caused by stagnating levels of support from the federal government, coupled with expansion of research efforts, has resulted in a record low percentage of operating grants funded in the latest round of competition from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
Nationally only 16 per cent of new grant applications were funded and at Memorial only nine per cent made the cut with just one grant approved out of the 11 submitted. Memorial’s CIHR delegate, Dr. Ken Kao, explained that a large proportion of grants applications are in the zone where they should be funded.
“Grants are reviewed and vetted on a point or ranking system out of five. Originally 3.5 was considered the cut off for funding but in the last several competitions a grant would have to score above 4. What will happen now is there will be grants with scores above 4, very high priority grants that address very important health research problems, that won’t get funded.”
Dr. Kao said the funding agency estimates that only one in five new grants and grant holders seeking renewal will be funded. “And to do that they may have to reduce the amount of funding per grant,” he added.
Dr. Kao noted that there are some other mechanisms that may provide partial funding for research projects that are highly placed but do not get funded in the operating grants competition, such as individual grants from one of the 13 institutes that comprise CIHR.
Dr. Penny Moody-Corbett, associate dean for research and graduate studies (Medicine), said that the CIHR Regional Partnerships Program, available in some provinces including Newfoundland and Labrador, has allowed CIHR funds to be matched by other agencies. The Regional Partnerships Program provides funding just below the budgetary cut-off available from CIHR and therefore provides funding for research studies in addition to those funded solely by the CIHR. “The province is one of our major partners in this program, which has been an enormous benefit to our health research community,” said Dr. Moody-Corbett.
Dr. Kao said the current funding situation can be very discouraging for new researchers entering the field. He recalls starting his faculty appointment at a worse time than this, in the early 1990s. “It was in the late 1990s that the CIHR was finally formed after an extensive campaign in which brain drain primarily to the U.S. was a real worry. In the past six years we’ve recruited many new faculty but if this funding crunch is to go further it will discourage people from going into science.”
The CIHR was created in 2000 and its budget has jumped to $723 million in 2007 from $289 million in 2000. About half the budget is distributed in the open grants competition and virtually all that money is funnelled through the 17 Canadian universities that have medical schools. The CIHR funds 3,300 researchers, up from 2,100 at its inception.