Provincial Cuts Threaten Research at Concordia

Quebec Science and Technology Funding Cut by 30%

The infographic represents the research funds Concordia has received in the past 10 years. It remains to be seen how the recent cuts will affect the university’s 2013-2014 funding. Jayde Norstrom

University researchers and administrators are rattled by the provincial government’s decision to cut their support of scientific research through the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies from $50.1 million to $35.2 million in the next fiscal year.

Announced Dec. 6, the cuts follow $124 million shaved from university operating budgets.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, Pierre Duchesne—the head of the Ministère de l’enseignement supérieur, de la recherche, de la science et de la technologie—said the cuts to the FRQNT come as a consequence of the terminated Stratégie québécoise de la recherche et de l’innovation.

New funding will come with a new national research policy, to be announced sometime in 2013-14. In the meantime, Quebec’s scientific community is worried about how the cuts might affect their work. A petition against the cuts, launched by a group of Quebec researchers, assistants and technicians, has gathered over 9,000 signatures online.

Guillaume Lamoureux, an assistant professor in Concordia’s department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is among those who signed the petition. In an interview with The Link, Lamoureux called the cuts an “inexplicable and unwise decision.”

He explained that the FRQNT is instrumental in setting up strategic clusters for research that “bring people together to work on transdisciplinary questions, […] things that cannot be investigated from the point of view of only one specialist.”

Lamoureux said that if any of the clusters could not get their funding renewed because of the cuts, the FRQNT would “pull the plug” on research already in progress.

“If your budget goes to zero, you stop existing,” said Lamoureux.

He added that the clusters “take a long time to build,” and that they are “the envy of most researchers outside Quebec.”

“Scientists don’t sign petitions that quickly, usually,” said Lamoureux about the scientific community’s protest to the cuts. “We’re a more reserved bunch. To see so many people sign that petition in a matter of a few days—it’s quite surprising.”

Robert Sonin, president of Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia, said that the cuts would “hit individual researchers directly.”

He added, “the government’s strategy toward higher education and research in general seems to be precisely the opposite of what a rational person would do to improve the university sector.”

“If your budget goes to zero, you stop existing.”
—Guillaume Lamoureux, Assistant Professor in Concordia’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Concordia currently hosts six research teams that receive FRQNT funding, amounting to $285,000 in total. The FRQNT also allocated $60,000 for the hiring of three new researchers at Concordia in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Xiupu Zhang, a professor in Concordia’s department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, researches broadband and high-output power photodiodes and optical receivers for millimetre-wave wireless and coherent optical communications.

He has been receiving $48,000 from FRQNT for this project for the past two years.

He told The Link that it would be very difficult to find other sources of funding if the cuts go through.

“We have something like a 20-per-cent success rate [in getting grants],” he said.

Zhang said that his team’s research is crucial because it contributes to important technological advances.

“Right now, we have a big gain for high-speed information technology. Why do you have high speed? Because we have developed [this] technology.”

The Fonds de recherche’s two other sub-funds, FRQ – Santé and FRQ – Société et culture will also be cut, but by only 13 per cent. Concordia received over $1.5 million from the FRQ – Société et culture in 2012-13. The Fonds de recherche also offers substantial research scholarships for students.

The cuts were referenced in a Dec. 19 Concordia NOW article published online, pointing out that “funding reductions at Quebec’s granting agencies could affect Concordia’s research activities.”

Dominique Michaud, associate director of research development at Concordia’s Office of Research, said her office had not yet received any information on how the cuts might impact Concordia.

“We know that it’s in the air, but we don’t know yet what will be the specific impact on the budgets,” she said.

As Michaud explained, Concordia will have to wait until each of the Fonds de recherche Boards of Governors meet and decide how the cuts will be distributed.

Although many of Concordia’s research teams are on the first of a three-year contract from the FRQ, Michaud said that funding for the remaining years is not guaranteed in light of the cuts.

“It has been seen in the past that basically, they would honour the grant—but they would revise the numbers,” she said.

When asked whether research projects would have to be abandoned because of the cuts, Michaud said, “We would have to look specifically into each project. […] The Fonds de recherche du Québec is an important source of revenue, but there are other agencies out there that we can apply to.”

Still, Michaud said that grant money from the FRQ has a “powerful impact on research at Concordia,” and that “roughly 50 per cent of grant money goes to student support of some kind.”