Thank you very much for that kind introduction, Mr. Chairman. On behalf of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today with respect to our operations, goals, challenges, and some of our strategic priorities.
Let me open with a brief introduction to SSHRC and its key role within Canada's knowledge economy and innovation agenda.
As you probably know, “social sciences and humanities” is really an umbrella term covering a broad array of disciplines and fields of study touching on many aspects of our lives, from psychology and social work to fine arts, linguistics, business, marketing, and communications, to name only a few of the disciplines we cover. Through grants, fellowships, and scholarships, SSHRC helps Canada's researchers and research institutions train the next generation of talented, creative thinkers and doers, build knowledge and understanding, and drive the innovations that address the challenges of today and tomorrow.
We have three core program areas.
First, our Talent program helps students and postdoctoral researchers develop skills and expertise in critical thinking, complex decision making and creative exploration. This accounts for 49% of program expenditures.
Our Insight program is our core support program for individuals, teams of researchers, and formal partnerships that create new knowledge and understanding, representing about 41% of our program expenditures.
No problem. I can repeat anything I said.
I can repeat it 1,000 times if you like.
Through SSHRC's Connection program, research knowledge is mobilized to inform Canadian and international research, debate, decisions and actions. This accounts for 10% of program expenditures.
On behalf of all three granting councils, SSHRC also administers—and this is an important point—four major programs you may have heard about: the Canada research chairs program, the Canada excellence research chairs program, the Canada first research excellence fund, and the research support fund. I would be happy to talk in detail about any or all of these programs in the question and answer period.
I did want to mention and emphasize SSHRC's key role in Canada's innovation agenda. I imagine there will be many questions about this. We often talk about innovation in terms of science and technology, but we always have to remember what drives real innovation and change, and that is people.
I firmly believe we have to move somewhat away from thinking about innovation in narrower terms. True innovation is a holistic enterprise, a multidisciplinary endeavour that gets to the heart of human behaviour. Researchers in the social sciences and the humanities can help us better understand the economic, social, environmental, legal, and ethical aspects of our changing world.
Research in the social sciences and humanities also contributes to the pressing issues of the day—and that is another real strength.
How will a changing climate, for example, affect Canada's coastal regions and northern communities? What kinds of infrastructural investments offer the greatest benefit to our cities and rural communities? How will we deal with population movements and the integration of refugees? How do we restore and maintain positive relations between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians?
SSHRC-funded research explores these and other critical questions that matter to Canadians.
To give you a sense of our work, let me provide you some context.
Currently, Canada's social science and humanities research community comprises no less than 24,000 full-time university faculty teachers, including many in colleges who work in our disciplines, 21,000 doctoral students, and 46,000 masters students across this country. This doesn't count the hundreds of thousands of undergraduate and diploma students engaged in social sciences and humanities research and training across the country.
Over the years, our funds for grants, fellowships, and scholarships have remained relatively stable at about $340 million, but with a growing cohort of researchers, the gap between our funding potential and our reality is starting to widen. There's one thing I can assure you of, however, and that is that the vast majority of our funds, close to 93¢ or 94¢ out of every SSHRC-allocated dollar from the Parliament of Canada, goes directly to fund researchers.
SSHRC handles as many as 12,000 to 13,000 applications every year. Depending on the funding opportunity, a single competition may receive anywhere from 100 to more than 3,000 applications. To evaluate these applications, we rely on a rigorous, world-class merit review process. More than 600 members—experts, researchers—sit on our 90 assessment committees each year, supported by an additional 6,000 external assessors and experts from Canada and around the world. I should emphasize as well that the work of these assessors is entirely voluntary and represents a contribution to our efforts at SSHRC in the amount of more than $8 million.
I'd also like to say a word about partnerships. At SSHRC, we recognize that government, industry, and academia must work together to provide high-quality evidence-based research to inform policy and decision-making. SSHRC currently funds 212 multidisciplinary cross-sector partnerships involving 46 post-secondary institutions and nearly 1,500 partner organizations. On average, our partnership grant-holders leverage more than 80¢ for every dollar of SSHRC funding, so that's 80¢ in addition to the contribution of the people of Canada.
I'd like to give you a few examples of the partnerships we fund.
Pavlos Kanaroglou, a professor in geography and earth sciences at McMaster University, is partnering with the Canadian Automobile Association, the Ford Motor Company, and Burlington Hydro to research the social costs and benefits of electric mobility in Canada.
David Connell, an associate professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, is partnering with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Max Planck Institute of Germany to research agricultural land use planning to help conserve farmland and promote farming.
Susanne Lajoie of McGill University is working with the Centre de recherche informatique de Montréal to study technology-rich learning environments and to improve learning and retention in schools.
Turning to our strategic priorities, Canada's researchers operate in a context far removed from that which existed when we were created back in 1977. With new and emerging digital technologies, an explosion of research crossing fields of study and even whole disciplines, and the increasing involvement of non-academic sectors in creating and mobilizing knowledge, today's campuses offer a very different research environment from those almost 40 years ago.
To address this challenge, we have carefully reviewed our programming, engaged the research community we serve, and analyzed the needs of the country’s evolving labour market. This has shaped and informed our new strategic plan—a blueprint to guide SSHRC's operations over the next five years.
Three strategic objectives lie at the heart of this plan.
First, we aim to enable excellence in a changing research environment such as I've just described. We will help ensure that Canada maintains and enhances its globally competitive position as a producer of high-calibre research embracing new and diverse forms of research excellence.
Secondly, we want to increase the scope and scale of our research investments and impact by building new and innovative partnerships. SSHRC will seek out and establish promising strategic opportunities for Canadian research, training, and knowledge mobilization through joint funding and other collaborative initiatives, both in Canada and abroad.
Finally, we are exploring better ways of connecting social sciences and humanities research with Canadians. We'll advance opportunities for the results of SSHRC research funding to be more accessible for organizations in all sectors, contributing evidence-based research to address the challenges of today and tomorrow.
To conclude, for nearly 40 years, SSHRC has continued to meet the high standards expected of us by the research community and the public. All of this we undertake as stewards of public funds and the public trust, accountable to the Canadian people and responsible for using its resources wisely and well.
That's why, with our sibling councils, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, SSHRC is working to harmonize our programs to deliver them more effectively and efficiently.
We do this to ensure that our colleges and universities can develop and attract a younger generation of talented researchers who will take up the challenges of delivering real results for Canadians.
We do this because we know that the pursuit of knowledge and new insights directly improves our lives for the better.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak with you today. We are more than happy to answer questions on this or any other aspect of our operations.
Sure, I'll clarify that. It's a great question, but I may answer this a little differently from the way you've asked it. I'll point out that we're saying that through our projects and through the projects we fund, we are able to bring another 80¢ to the table in addition to the dollar that's been provided by SSHRC and by the Parliament of Canada. In some cases, in some competitions, we've actually brought more than that, maybe a whole other dollar to the table.
The issue that you've pointed out is absolutely critical because what it shows is we need to bring this funding to the table in order to be able to fund precisely the kinds of costs that you've identified. In the case of researchers, costs have multiplied over the years, inflation has eaten away at the funding that's provided, so there's always an effort to make sure that we're able to cover all the costs required to deliver the outcomes that will have impact.
The institutions have their own costs, as many of you well know, some of which are supported through the research support fund. About 20% to 25%, depending on the institution, is returned in additional funds to institutions to help them cover costs for electricity, maintenance, libraries, technology transfer operations that have costs that extend well beyond what we provide to the researchers to cover.
It's a system. There are several elements to the system. As you've pointed out, quite rightly, there's the research that's done and the people who need to get paid. In our case, the researchers are paid by the provinces for the most part through their salaries. They need research assistants, they need to travel a bit, and they may need supplies. Then we can't forget that the university has to provide the environment to support that research, an additional cost, about 25¢ on the dollar. They would say it's twice that, but I'm not here to advocate for them.
Good afternoon, Dr. Hewitt and colleagues. Thank you for taking the time to be with us.
As an engineer and a businessman, I'm always interested in emerging technology as well as the applied side of that technology, with a special focus on creating jobs and the impact that it has on the economic growth.
Having said that, I had the opportunity to look at your presentation from last year, which I believe was on Thursday, May 7. As I'm a person who is interested in the emerging technology, one thing jumped out at me. I'll quote so I'm not misrepresenting what was said. You said:
...emerging technology and how best to take advantage of it is the subject of a knowledge synthesis grant opportunity that SSHRC will be launching this fall.
That was the fall of 2015. You said that this “funding opportunity will help our state of knowledge about”, one, “emerging technology”, two, identifying “gaps in our knowledge”, and three, “the most promising policies and practices related to” that. To that extent, I have five questions that I will bombard you with, and then you can answer them.
First, of the $340 million that you have in your budget, how much have you allocated to this grant program and what sector specifically is being focused on?
Second, what “emerging technology” has been identified so far?
Third, what are the “gaps in knowledge” that were identified?
Fourth, what are the related “policies and practices” identified that needed to be look at?
Lastly, as a businessman, for every dollar that was invested in this emerging technology, what do you anticipate or what does the research anticipate will help create jobs and have an impact on the GDP?
Take it on.
Yes. I'll start and everyone will help me.
Mr. Majid Jowhari: Sure.
Dr. Ted Hewitt: To be clear, the program is now in place. It's part of a broader endeavour that SSHRC undertook through a broad consultation process starting about two years ago. It was called “Imagining Canada's Future”. The sole objective of this program was to help identify, with the help of Canadians and researchers, the public, and people in government and elsewhere, what would be the real research challenges in the coming 10, 20, 30, or 40 years. We identified a whole range of these.
Through this process, at the end of the day we said there were six.
Emerging technologies is one. It's pretty obvious. As you know, we all carry these things with us and they're giving us a lot of help, but they're also bringing a lot of challenges with them in terms of technology.
Another was mechanisms and new ways of teaching and learning. I think we all have opinions about how well our post-secondary schools are doing—and even our primary and secondary schools—in helping to instruct students.
Another that we heard again and again was aboriginal people and aboriginal communities. What are the challenges? How do we work together? How do we bring communities together to help them prosper, both on the aboriginal side and on the non-aboriginal side?
What are the challenges of big populations? As we grow and as we tend to consume more resources, how are we going to deal with this?
Where is Canada going in the world? Where are we going to be in 20 or 30 years? We're a major trading nation. Who will be our trading partners? Will we still be dependent on the United States in terms of trade?
The last one was in natural resources and energy.
That was the point of the exercise. The grants themselves are quite small. They were established in the range of about $25,000 to $50,000, I believe. The point was not to do the research to answer the question, but to do the research to tell us what's been done already and where the gaps are, because this is something that we need to know before we can go forward and start to really dig down on where we need to start working.
In that context, the amount that would be applied for the entire program would be minimal—in the order of $1 or $2 million out of discretionary funding that in fact for the most part comes under my control as president.
In terms of the impact of this, it's in a very early stage. Obviously the money is used, as in the case of all our grants, to fund student assistants and other types of research assistants directly. The rule of thumb is that about 75¢ out of every $1 in research and in our domain goes to people, and that creates employment.
But we're still so far upstream in terms of where we'll go that I cannot say to you that the impact of this will be the transformation of industries X, Y, and Z. What I can say to you is that as a result of this process—we've only done two so far and we're right in the middle of the emerging technology call—I'll be able to tell you that we now have a better idea of where the major challenge lies and where we should be committing dollars to learn more. Is it IT and bandwidth? Is it about teaching and learning with respect to new technologies? Or is it about workers and retraining of workers? We're going to have a much better idea of what that is when the process is completed.
I've probably left some things out.
Dominique, did you want to add anything?
Thank you, folks, for coming here today to talk to us about what is an extremely important role that you have.
I want to hear a little about SSHRC's responsibilities, but that's more a play on words than anything. Most of us around this table have science and engineering backgrounds, and so on. When we look at some of the different things that are expected, and aspects of the studies that you have, and what is going on, I think that in a lot of ways we look at it from the perspective of true scientific discovery rather than political science, or maybe social science. As I've always said about scientists, they'll never say there's a zero result of something happening, and that's when the political sciences jump in it to tell you that means it's terrible. I guess that's part of it.
One of the terms that always gets thrown into the mix is the term “social licence“. I think it's important that everyone recognizes the metrics that are used, because that's where the political science side of it comes in. It must be extremely difficult for you to be able to look at different projects or their different components and the people who might want to be part of that, and separate what should be out of it and what should be in it. That's more or less a comment that I wanted to make.
The other part is that you say that your grants are small, but certainly to the people we have talked to they have been well received. You can be proud of that part.
I did go through your imagining Canada's future initiative that you launched in June 2011. One of the things I did want to emphasize is that one of the six future challenge areas asked, “What effect will the quest for energy and natural resources have on our society and our position on the world stage?” I think that's what I was getting at when I was talking about the concept of social licence and the types of things that are going on there.
I'm wondering how you're able to make sure that all of the discussions taking place are fair. I have a background in agriculture as well, and so I noticed that one of your projects was with someone who was studying at the Max Planck Institutes in Germany and trying to research agricultural land use. I know a lot of people from Europe, and their farming practices are very different from ours. Expectations, uses of genetically modified organisms, and all of those other sorts of things also tie into the same point I was making earlier.
I'm wondering if you could give us a bit of an overview of how you have maintained the credibility that one would anticipate from true scientists doing true scientific work.
This is an extremely important question, and I want to be absolutely clear. I can't tell you that everybody likes everything we fund. That's a fact. I can say that—and I think the other presidents can probably say the same thing.... One thing I have to say and be absolutely clear about is that in our calls, with the funding we receive from the Parliament of Canada, we are completely open, in terms of who can apply, with what partners, and to research what question.
Sometimes we put some boundaries around that. We've had targeted money, in the past, for management, business, and finance, or for the environment, or for the north, but generally calls are pretty wide-open. You can see a lot of different things coming in from a lot of different places.
The one thing we assure the researchers, this committee, and the Parliament of Canada is that the filter we apply is subject to best standard and best practice globally, in terms of the evaluation by peers and experts, to ensure that at the end of the day, regardless of whether folks like or don't like a project, that project was deemed to be the best project in its class and was funded for that reason alone. We will stand by that until the day they close the doors, because if we lose that, we lose everything. I want to assure you of our absolutely best efforts to make sure that always happens.
On the side of social licence, this is one area where I love to talk, to demonstrate how important we are in the innovation process and in the economy of Canada.
We now work with FPAC, which is the Forest Products Association of Canada; we work with the mining community; we work with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, mostly around social licence issues. Why?
In the old days, people would say, “What do you need social science and humanities for?” “Oh, well, they are ethical issues.” True. “They are legal issues.” Yes. “They are policy issues.” Yes. Until one day, somebody woke up and said, “We want to build a pipeline through there, but the community is not really keen on this”. Even though the law says you can, good luck in digging the hole. You need to get that social licence in place in order to be able to pursue your interest, whatever that is.
The research that we do is often around what the issues are, what the community is looking for, and what approach companies should take, in terms of negotiating with communities, to find solutions where everybody benefits.
First of all, let me say that we are here to serve the people of Canada and the Parliament of Canada, period.
On the other side of the innovation equation, one of the examples I like to give is the new technology that's developed for communication devices, smart phones, and so forth. Think about what this essentially is.
For example, I have an iPhone here. It's a very sophisticated piece of technology, but as soon as I open it up—and this is where I'm going to show you where the human element and the social sciences and humanities come in—what am I going to do?
First of all, I'm impressed by the design. It's the design that makes this such an attractive device. That design was undertaken by people who work in this field—whether they are not architects but designers, industrial designers—our discipline.
Secondly, I'm going to check my email communication. I'm going to deal with other human beings in the course of the day. I'm going to figure out what I need to do from work. I'm going to see if my family needs my help.
Thirdly, I might read a book, or I might watch a movie, or I might look at the CBC news, or the CTV news, or whatever.
That's just to say that all of those things that I will do through this piece of technology, and all the design that was undertaken to make this piece of technology sing, came from people who were trained in our disciplines, building on the highly trained, highly skilled folks in science and engineering who built it.