Welcome to number 49 of the Standing Committee on Science and Research.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of June 23, 2022. Members are attending in person in the room, and we also have members remotely using the Zoom application. We have a witness on Zoom, as well, today.
I have a few comments regarding Zoom. To choose your interpretation, you have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of floor, English or French. Mute yourself unless you're speaking. When you are speaking, speak through the chair. That goes for everybody, please.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(i), and the motion adopted by the committee on Tuesday, February 14, 2023, the committee commences its study of the Government of Canada’s graduate scholarship and post-doctoral fellowship programs.
It's now my pleasure to welcome our witnesses today. Thank you for coming and preparing for today's discussion.
First of all, in the room, we have Colin Colterjohn, Ph.D. candidate from McMaster University. From Support Our Science in Winnipeg, we have Marc Johnson, chair of the board.
Each of you will have five minutes to give us your remarks, after which we'll go to the rounds of questioning. I'll start signalling you, when we're at time.
We'll start off with Colin Colterjohn from McMaster.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and the Standing Committee on Science and Research, for inviting me to give the testimony of my experience as a graduate student in Canada.
I thought it best to begin by addressing how McMaster University recognizes and acknowledges that it is located on the traditional territories of the Mississauga and Haudenosaunee nations and within lands protected by the Dish with One Spoon wampum agreement.
Next, I'd like to open by giving an overview of who I am and what my research is. I'm a Hamilton native currently studying at McMaster University in the engineering physics stream for my Ph.D., specializing in the nuclear stream. I primarily focus on modelling the introduction of small modular reactors into Ontario's energy mix. If you have any questions about this, please let me know. I believe I may have exhausted my partner's patience on the topic of nuclear reactors at home, so it would be best to get it out of my system while I'm here.
With the support of my amazing supervisor, McMaster University, Mitacs and other research funding groups, I've been fortunate enough to have opportunities to collaborate with international professors and pursue my research abroad, such as spending nine weeks in Japan last summer as part of the Mitacs-JSPS Globalink award.
However, while amazing opportunities such as this may exist on the individual level, I have found that graduate funding as a whole is an area worthy of rehabilitation in Canada if we are truly seeking to ground innovation domestically and support a new generation of industry-leading experts.
For almost the entirety of my undergraduate career, I knew that grad school was a route I wanted to follow. That being the case, I still spent the vast majority of the time looking into pursuing my graduate career in the United States rather than Canada, largely due to the immense funding opportunities that exist for both researchers and varsity athletes down south. In the end, though, the opportunity to work with a specific professor at Mac shifted my interest back home. Though I'm happy with my decision today, it has not come without its difficulties.
For example, I recently purchased a very modest home in Hamilton. I am the only one I know, among my peers, who has been capable of doing so, and I could not have done so without my fiancée sharing the financial burden. She is a registered nurse who has also recently rejoined the academic community to obtain her master's as a nurse practitioner. Unfortunately, as is the reality in today's housing market, my fiancée was unable to begin her graduate career until after we successfully secured a home together, as Canadian mortgage insurers do not consider my guaranteed graduate and research scholarships to be counted as consistent income, even when stipulated as such by my issuing university.
Together, with the aid of our respective graduate bursaries and collective funding, as well as all qualified OSAP support, we still would not be able to sustain our current mortgage payments without the part-time jobs we both hold and balance alongside our full-time education. My fiancée continues to work 12-hour shifts as an RN and I operate as a part-time bar manager in Hamilton in order to subsidize the mortgage we otherwise could not afford. Even then, our financial situation, though sustainable, is far from comfortable. I believe this remains a best-case scenario for many graduate students seeking to own their own homes today.
While it may seem obvious that the preferred alternative to this arrangement would be for us to wait until we have finished our respective degrees before purchasing a home, this option is rapidly becoming less and less realistic. Housing prices continue to soar out of reach for my friends who have yet to purchase a house, and rental prices are scarcely easier to manage.
To summarize, while I sincerely appreciate the support I have received from my university and all government funding agencies thus far, I believe this support is quickly becoming insufficient for incoming students. Today, Canadian graduates seem to have to make a decision between pursuing higher education or being able to afford adult life. I feel this dichotomy is nothing short of detrimental to furthering Canadian-led research and innovation. I do not believe we can sustain our graduate programs if we're asking young people to put their lives on hold in order to follow us.
Thank you again to the chair and this committee for the time. I hope my testimony might help in strengthening Canada's commitment to graduate research.
Dear Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to be with you today. I'm speaking to you from Winnipeg, Canada, Treaty 1 land, which is home to many first nations today and the homeland of the Métis nation.
For background, I am a professor of biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga and the Canada research chair in urban environmental science. Today, though, I am speaking to you in my role as chair of the board at Support Our Science, or SOS.
SOS is advocating for higher pay for the nearly 300,000 graduate students and post-doctoral scholars working across Canada from coast to coast to coast. I am speaking to you today because stagnation in funding and inadequate federal financial support for graduate students and post-docs is the most important issue in Canadian research and innovation today.
I'm not going to restate Support Our Science's requests of the government. If you'd like to see them, they were given in the May 9 testimony by Sarah Laframboise, our executive director. I'm happy to put them into context if you have any questions about them.
This is an important issue, because research at university in Canada drives the discovery and innovation of our nation that fuel our economy. The people doing this work are largely graduate students and post-doctoral scholars. It's important to put this into context, because “graduate students” is a bit of a misnomer. They're not really students in the traditional sense that you think of students. They are researchers. Their main job is doing research. Post-doctoral scholars have already earned a Ph.D. They're already among the most highly trained and skilled people in our country. We need these people for Canada to succeed, and we're forcing them into poverty by paying them less than minimum wage. You'll hear about that today from some of the other testimony.
Let me put this into perspective from a personal angle. In 2003 I was a second-year Ph.D. student. The Conservative Party of Canada in that year, when they were in government, had a bold vision to create a highly trained generation of people who would drive our innovation economy. They created the Canada graduate scholarships program for master's and doctoral students. They also increased the value of postgraduate scholarships and increased the value of post-doctoral fellowships.
The following year, in 2004, I was among the very first Ph.D. students to be awarded a Canada graduate scholarship. It was worth $35,000 per year. That money, that investment, was transformative for me. With this money I paid my tuition, my food and my rent. The investment allowed me to focus on research. With this increased focus, I was able to make major discoveries about how plants defend themselves against pest insects. This work has had applications to agriculture, horticulture and conservation. For this work, I won the Governor General's gold medal and several other awards.
This success led to me receiving an NSERC post-doctoral fellowship, which I took to Duke University to learn cutting-edge techniques in molecular biology and genomics. Armed with this new knowledge and these skills, I then started my own laboratory as a professor, eventually at the University of Toronto Mississauga, where I'm training the next generation of scientists, master's and Ph.D. students and post-doctoral scholars, who are making their own discoveries that are contributing to our country and economy.
Now, herein lies the problem. It's been 20 years since I did my Ph.D., and the federal support for graduate and post-doctoral researchers that I received has changed by zero dollars. Imagine if you hadn't received a raise in 20 years. I think most of you would have left your profession by now. That's exactly what's happening. The Canadian research system is in crisis. Our brightest minds in Canada are leaving the country in droves.
In 2019 the McGill TRaCE study discovered that 38% of all freshly minted Ph.D.s in Canada are leaving for other countries where they are better compensated, mainly in Europe and the U.S. That's nearly 3,700 Ph.D.s leaving every year that we've just invested in. That investment was intended to drive our innovation and our economy. When they leave, that's a lost investment. I've estimated that it's worth $740 million every year.
That study was in 2019. The problem is even worse today. Essentially, Canada has become the world leader in training people to leave our nation. That's why increased federal support for graduate students and post-doc students is the most important issue in Canada today.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to our witnesses for appearing today.
Mr. Johnson, you said there was a 0% increase, but we know that's not entirely true. When you factor in inflation—right now, we're suffering from a 30-year high in inflation—it's worse than a 0% increase. It's a decrease, because fewer dollars go further now than in the past.
Have you heard of other students having to use the food bank or changing their living environments to somehow get by on the same amount of money that you received 20 years ago?
In inflationary terms, you're exactly accurate. The values are now much less than they were 20 years ago, of course.
Yes, there are many students who are in dire straits. Many students are using food banks. If you go to the website for Support Our Science, there are lots of graduate and post-doc students who are telling their stories there, and it is heartbreaking. Some of the students have to live in vans, so they are actually homeless.
This is why I say the system is in crisis. These are people who are supposed to be our leaders for the future. They're supposed to be leading our innovation and discovery in Canada for the benefit of Canada, and we are forcing them into poverty. I think that's not right.
Thank you very much for that.
I'm switching gears to our other witness today.
Colin, thank you very much for appearing here in person. I understand that you are working on fuel research. It sounds like you had a professor who had a connection with you or an impact on you, and that's why you went to McMaster.
In general, though, what is the federal government's role in encouraging more people to study in the sciences and, especially, nuclear science?
I'm pleased to see you with us, and I thank both witnesses for their testimony.
My first question is for Mr. Colterjohn.
Mr. Colterjohn, I reviewed your profile and saw that you're a water polo player. I'm sure you juggle the demands of both academics and sport. I've been the parliamentary secretary for sport, so I know a little bit about the sports scholarships system.
Can you tell us about the contribution of scholarship programs to your ability to maintain a balance, thanks to the scholarships you received? Have you received any scholarships for both sports and academics? Tell us a little about that system.
Yes, I do believe that it's fair to have some degree of allocation of funding that's given to each sport based on the popularity of the sport, because that, at the end, also impacts the amount of money that comes through the entire system. That's the way that funding has been from a government standpoint in the past when I used programs such as Quest for Gold carding from the Ontario government.
At the same time, I do believe that funding, overall, from the ground up, does require some degree of rehabilitation because it seems that there's a stopping point right now somewhere between what the government has allocated and what schools are allocated. Again, I can only speak from my experience here as an undergrad and a graduate student. We went from some small amount of subsidies at the start in the form of scholarships to paying to play at a fairly competitive level the last six or seven years. As much as we are very committed and passionate about our sport, it's something that, unfortunately, most students can't physically afford to do. Much of the burden has been picked up by our alumni association to help with that, but it does feel that, overall, the students are not receiving any support in terms of sports scholarships.
Mr. Johnson, as chair of the board of directors for Support Our Science, you have a valuable vision of the current reality of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in Canada.
In your opinion, what was the impact of freezing scholarships for researchers, and what might be the effects of a possible increase?
If you don't have time to answer my question now, I'd like you to send us an answer in writing.
I welcome the witnesses who are here to participate in our important study.
Mr. Johnson, on May 1, the Support Our Science movement coordinated simultaneous rallies throughout Quebec and Canada. In nearly 50 institutions, students, research staff, teachers and other players united to send a message to the government that it's time to act. Asking our best brains to live with the same income they had 20 years ago is unworthy of a G7 country. Is there anything, anything at all, whose price hasn't gone up since 2003? I don't know of any.
I was at the rally on Parliament Hill, which included representatives of the Quebec Student Union, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and Support Our Science. In fact, I called more attention to it by holding a transpartisan press briefing in the House of Commons foyer with representatives of those three organizations. I invited all members of the committee to join me in asking for an increase in scholarships. I thank my colleague Mr. Cannings, who was the only one to join me in supporting our students. It's important to mention it.
Mr. Johnson, after that huge rally on May 1, organized by the Support Our Science movement, have you had any discussions or communication with the current government?
There are four specific requests. One is that the value of graduate scholarships increase by 50% in their value and be indexed to inflation moving forward.
The second is that the number of graduate scholarships increase by 50%, because there has been a doubling in the number of graduate students in the system in the last 20 years.
The third request is that the number of post-doctoral fellowships increase by 100%. The reason is that, in 2010, the number of awards decreased by 40% and at the same time the number of Ph.D.s in the system has doubled through time.
The fourth request is to increase the budgets of grants at the tri-agencies by 10% per year for the next five years.
I am surprised that this committee has only recommended a 25% increase. That only brings us to 2015 levels, which are still below the poverty line. Why the committee keeps recommending an increase of 25% is also surprising. I don't know where that number is coming from. It's not based on any data that I'm aware of.
Thank you to both witnesses here today. I'm going to continue with Dr. Johnson.
First of all, thank you for all the work you've put in over the last years on this issue. It's an important one, obviously. As you say, it's the most important issue facing science and research in Canada and the federal government and, again as you say, there's been general surprise from all sorts of people and groups, including me, that this hasn't been dealt with quickly, because it would be an easy win. It's very low-hanging fruit.
I'm wondering if we can go back to the figure you mentioned. I think it was $740 million a year as a rough figure—and you've said that it may be more than a billion dollars per year—in lost investment. This is the amount of money we've put into educating our young researchers every year, and that is being lost as they leave the country, because other countries seem to recognize their value more than we do. I'm just wondering if you could comment on that and maybe expand on how that works.
Yes. Every Ph.D. student in the country ends up doing years of research and training. On average, it's 5.75 years that a Ph.D. student works to become an expert in their field. We invest a lot in that. On average, that's $35,000 a year that we're investing in them to become some of the best scientists, social scientists, engineers and nuclear physicists, as we were hearing from the other witness.
The intention of that investment, as I understand it, is that it's going to benefit our economy for years to come. I see it as problematic that four years ago, before everything went crazy with inflation and the pandemic, 38% of all Ph.D.s were immediately leaving the country—and most of them not coming back—because they could not get adequate support here in Canada. In 2019, that was costing our economy $740 million per year. Today, with inflation, that number is going to be much higher. There's been no other study since then. It's almost certainly over one billion dollars a year today.
For example, from my own lab, of the last four Ph.D. students, three have gone to the U.S., and there's no hope of bringing them back at this point because they're making much more money. In the U.S., for example, the equivalent of our scholarship for a Ph.D. student is $65,000 Canadian in the U.S. We're offering $45,000 here. For post-docs, it's $95,000 a year Canadian in the U.S. for the equivalent of what we're offering here, which is $45,000.
There's just a huge discrepancy right now. When my daughter, who's going into university right now, thinks of doing graduate school because she wants to be a physicist, I will tell her to study elsewhere unless things change here in Canada.
I think there could be more direct action between the government funding groups and the students themselves.
Most of the funding right now seems to be done through the university, then allocated to a research group and then allocated to a student. That's not to say anything negative about my research group, professor or university, but I think between professors not necessarily seeing the actual financial need a lot of students have.... There's some degree of “lost in translation”, as I referred to before, with funds that are allocated not being used at all.
If there were more direct communication between graduate students and these funding bodies, the funding could be used better. More of the existing funding could be used more effectively.
Thanks to both of the witnesses for their appearance today at committee.
I'm going to start with Mr. Colterjohn.
He touched on the housing issue here in Hamilton. With both of us being from Hamilton, we know the wave of migration from the GTA to Hamilton has certainly impacted not just house prices—he referenced the challenges he experienced with his partner—but also the rental market. For students, then, who are primarily in the Westdale area in the west end of the city and who are looking for affordable accommodation, it becomes a real challenge.
Some of the questions I've asked previous witnesses relate to the same study around that whole issue of housing and how the federal government can assist with student housing. I know, Mr. Colterjohn, you may be familiar with McMaster opening, this fall, a postgrad residence in downtown Hamilton, right across the street or a stone's throw from city hall. It will house 600 grad students and assist with that whole issue of affordable housing. I think the university sees it as a kind of carrot.
Mr. Chair, through you, my question to Mr. Colterjohn would be this: Are there ways and means by which we can assist with that affordability issue he referenced earlier? We've received some consistent recommendations as they relate to increasing the amount of assistance, scholarships or post-doctoral support, but if we're looking at that whole issue related to affordability.... I think my colleague MP Lauzon touched on that in terms of sports—the assistance we can provide as carrots, so to speak, to be more competitive.
How can we assist on the housing file with those who are looking at staying in the system and at the university for their postgraduate studies, but who see it as very expensive, as Mr. Colterjohn raised in his opening comment? I'm glad he raised it, because it's a consistent theme, not just here at this committee but also at others. How can we assist in terms of providing support for those experiencing the high inflationary costs and finding it very challenging to find an affordable place to live in and around the university precinct?
I have seen the graduate building going up in downtown Hamilton. I'm very happy McMaster decided to invest in this. I haven't looked into it. I can't speak to what the costs are for graduate students who are interested.
I think the number one thing.... It comes back to what I spoke about in a previous set of questions: direct funding from bodies to students. If it were made clear that there are funding opportunities for students to apply for, specifically with an emphasis on affordable living or subsidizing housing situations, that would be some of the best action that I, personally, as a grad student, could see the universities and governing bodies taking.
Mr. Chair, I'll turn to Mr. Johnson for the international context.
Mr. Johnson, you compared the postgraduate support provided in the United States to what students are receiving here. What does it look like internationally, if we turn to Europe or other parts of the world, as it relates to financial support? I'm assuming those same gaps exist in comparison to.... Mr. Colterjohn talked earlier about his Japanese experience.
How does it compare to Europe and other parts of the world?
I'm also happy to talk about the issue of housing, specifically when it comes to affordability. Mr. Chair, do you know how many new investments the last federal budget made in housing? None. Same thing for graduate scholarships, with no new investments over the last 20 years.
I don't mind asking questions and going around in circles, but I really want us to talk about the subject at hand, which is graduate scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships.
The government sponsored the Bouchard report, which was released by the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System. Recommendation 6 of the report calls for competitive support on the global stage for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, thus recognizing their essential role as the future leaders of scientific innovation.
Mr. Johnson, do you think that meeting demands to support our sciences represents an acceptable minimum threshold to achieve an internationally competitive level of funding?
You have five seconds left. You got a lot in in a short time, as always.
Thank you to our witnesses for being so concise with your answers. If there is other information that you want to expand on, you can definitely send it in writing and the clerk can include it in your testimony.
Thank you, Colin Colterjohn and Marc Johnson, for your testimony. It is going to help us with the Government of Canada's graduate scholarship and post-doctoral fellowship programs study.
We'll suspend briefly now to change our panel. We'll have one witness online and one in person. I'll suspend for a few minutes. We'll see you at the top of the hour.
I call the meeting back to order. We'll get started.
We may need to suspend. The witness who is online isn't here yet, so we may have to suspend to do a sound check with that witness.
Welcome to everybody who has returned and to our witness as well. Welcome back.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(i) and the motion adopted by the committee on Tuesday, February 14, 2023, the committee is resuming its study of the Government of Canada’s graduate scholarship and post-doctoral fellowship programs.
It's now my pleasure to welcome back Mr. Chad Gaffield, who is the chief executive officer of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities. We'll start with your testimony, and hopefully our other witness will join us in progress.
You have five minutes, please. The floor is yours.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank all members of the committee for giving me the opportunity to discuss what I think is the key component of the science and research file.
Let me thank you for your continuing leadership of the standing committee in discussion, debate and policy formulation for science and research in Canada. Your reports and recommendations this past year consistently proposed promising and urgently needed steps forward for Canada in what I think we all agree are turbulent times.
My focus today is on the Government of Canada's graduate scholarship and post-doctoral fellowship programs, the subject of your next report. My specific aim is to contribute to your report by describing, in detail, exactly why these scholarship and fellowship programs are so important and so deserving of your close attention. These details are important since they help explain why Canada's scholarship and fellowship programs are at risk—at risk of failing Canada's best and brightest; at risk of failing our institutions, companies and communities; at risk of failing our country's future; and indeed at risk of failing Canada's important role on the world stage.
How did we get here?
Witnesses thus far have emphasized how graduate students play a vital role in the research and innovation ecosystem, making significant contributions to advancing research and mobilizing knowledge while developing domain expertise and deep, enduring competencies in high demand across society.
Witnesses have emphasized how Canada's scholarships and fellowships have generally remained at financial levels set two decades ago.
Witnesses have described how peer countries are moving in the opposite direction by rapidly increasing their research investments, especially to cultivate the highly qualified talent development that is now globally recognized to be the centrepiece of every robust research and innovation ecosystem.
The U.S.A.'s Chips and Science Act more than doubled their national science commitment over five years and has increased graduate research fellowships by 50%.
Witnesses have emphasized that the government's own advisory panel on Canada's research ecosystem—in the Bouchard report—concluded that Canada has been losing ground when it comes to investing in research. The Bouchard report makes clear funding recommendations: Increase funding for the three granting agencies by 10% annually for the next five years. The report stresses the urgency of acting. The report reads, “To put it starkly, current support for graduate students—the researchers of tomorrow—is at a breaking point.”
In this context, my aim today is to ensure that you have the detailed information that explains how we got to this breaking point and what action is needed to get Canada back on track.
Let me invite us to focus attention on a series of key issues.
Let us focus on the holders of graduate scholarships and fellowships and discuss how exceptional they are as the emerging leaders of their generation. They represent those who have been judged to be Canada's best hope for major steps forward as a country. Let us discuss, in detail, the rigorous, multistep process that leads to their selection. Let us discuss Canada's objectives in offering these graduate scholarships and fellowships. Let's specify exactly what these awards are designed to accomplish for Canada and why they set the standard for Canada's entire science and research ecosystem.
Let's review the meaning and significance for an individual to be chosen for an award, especially for the best and brightest from disadvantaged backgrounds. Let's list the consequences for award winners today of receiving awards at levels set years ago. Then, let's consider the consequences for Canada of offering scholarships and fellowships today in the currency of 2003.
Mr. Chair, it is these and related issues that are at the heart of our discussions.
While all your reports have been highly significant, I am convinced that this report on scholarships and fellowships could have the most significant impact for the long-term benefit of Canada.
As you know, this spring's federal budget contained no new investments in research funding for universities. This marks the second consecutive year that the federal government has frozen research funding. In fact, this year, it is asking for a 3% cut. Scholarships and fellowships will remain at levels set years ago. Inflation will continue eroding research grant funding, and initiatives to innovate across the private, public and non-profit sectors will continue to face serious difficulties at a critical time.
Canada needs to act now.
Many thanks, and I look forward to our discussion.
Thank you very much for that question.
As you may know, I'm a long-term university professor, and I've also looked after one of the federal research councils. What I've been struck by in the last 25 years of active involvement in this sector is the extent to which a commitment to building a better future for Canada in a changed world has really involved a bipartisan commitment to investing in the best and brightest. We saw this. Earlier today there was mention of the Liberal government's initiatives in terms of the Canada graduate scholarship and so on. That was followed by the Conservative government's leadership in terms of the Bantings and the Vanier fellowships, and the Canada excellence research chairs and so on. There has been a long-term commitment to say that Canada will survive in the 21st century by having the human capital to help us move forward.
What's happened, I think, in the last number of years is that this long-standing commitment has kind of been taken for granted a bit. We haven't realized that, in an international and competitive world, given inflation and so on, we cannot lose focus. This is something that must be considered a priority for the country, year in and year out.
My sense is that a lot of your work here at this committee, and certainly what the witnesses have been saying, is really bringing it to our attention that this plan, this commitment, of building a Canada based on human capital rather than simply what we have in the ground is now more important than ever. In a changed global context, a world of the intangible economy and a world in which all countries are trying to move up the value chain in terms of a higher level of economic activities, we must double down, in fact, on this bipartisan strategy that Canada pursued successfully until fairly recently.
That's such an interesting point. One of the issues that is so important goes back to the bipartisan debate that went on, in fact, in the mid-nineties: The world has many researchers. Canada is a little country. How about we just import it when we need it? We're a little country. Let's just let other people do all the great discoveries and advances and so on. Then we'll just leverage that. It was a “make it or buy it” kind of argument.
The reason that approach was put to the side was that people argued that, if we don't have a rich, high-quality research and innovation ecosystem, we won't even know what to buy. We won't even know what's happening in the world. We need to have our leaders in the game. Yes, we're a small country. We're never going to be able to make all the advances that are needed in the 21st century, but if we don't have people in the game of science and research, we will become a colony in this new world of the 21st century.
That was why there were investments and a huge effort made to make Canada not just an intellectual colony in the 21st century, not just a place that was dependent on the rest of the world, but a strong, sovereign and domestically capable country, by investing in our best and brightest.
Thank you for your testimony, Mr. Gaffield.
I'm listening to a number of witnesses—you and others. We're all sensitive to the complexity of the issue. It's not just more money for the scholarships. There's a host of issues at play to support students. I have nephews—Ph.D. students—in the family. They all struggle, like most kids do and like we did as kids, trying to get themselves established to have some life benefits.
Then the monetization of what some of what that work will do will have huge payoffs. Part of this is also the monetization of IP, enabling us to scale and enabling us to retain investments in Canada to support these innovations and these students ultimately.
To hear from one side and to throw money at one single issue while not giving consideration to all the other things that are being done to support the system is unfair. What we need to do is prioritize and be efficient and effective at attracting the students, the talent and the minds because that's priority one over everything else. I congratulate you for so much of what you've done in this respect.
Tell me: How can we, as a government, but not just the federal government, the private sector, all of us, even those in the provincial sector, support some of these efforts?
Thank you so much for that question because what you implied in it is the crucial point.
Again, in my years leading the federal granting council for social sciences and humanities, what we found was that for investing in research, the guaranteed ROI—the guaranteed return—is that cultivation of talent, which is the people we need. It's guaranteed.
This was the debate from the mid-nineties on. For a country, when you think about it, what can we invest in today that has a guaranteed return? There are not many things, but in fact, in the research world, that's exactly what happens. When you fund research projects, the people involved are all going to have their human capital—their intellectual capital—raised in ways that will serve that society.
You're absolutely right in terms of pointing to the importance of an ecosystem approach. One key aspect is that we can't just do a little bit over here and.... While I'm a huge proponent of saying we must have scholarships and fellowships at an internationally competitive level, that is just the pinnacle of the much larger effort we need.
We need to be able to view this entire ecosystem in a holistic way. Why? We need that development of talent across our sectors across the country and for them to be able to engage internationally, because at the end of the day, that is the ROI that is going to save us in terms of building a better future.
Yes, I couldn't agree more. Being able to attract some of those students to stay in Canada.... We do have a lot of interest in students remaining in Canada doing the work they do. Some of the concerns involve affordability issues. We have a whole suite of other opportunities to support them in that regard too, which are not being taken into consideration in the line of questioning.
We have to recognize that there's a much bigger issue. That's why this committee has been formed. It's to support research, to support innovation and to support Canada's sovereignty and protection in this space. It's critical as we go forward.
On the Bouchard report, some of your colleagues have been calling me already. We've had discussions. We know that's a priority system. We know that's something the government is looking at seriously. Thank you for that.
Mr. Chair, I'm not sure if I have more time. I have two minutes...? That's even better.
What are some of the supports the students are receiving from outside of government in regard to what they do?
That's a great question, and implied in what you said there, in fact, are a few things that are really important.
First of all, what attracts a student here from another country and what keeps one of our students from going somewhere else? There are a few factors involved.
Obviously, there is the quality of the research environment. Canada has been investing over the last 25 years to have research facilities that are at the right level in terms of that. We've been investing in terms of having leading professors who are able to be supervisors for students, and that's a key component.
We also have—and I think you were implying this—a kind of country that I think is super attractive for some of the world's leaders of the emerging generation. We have an inclusive society. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are devoted and committed to being an inclusive society. We're a society that I think in many ways corresponds to the ideal of a 21st-century world, a world in which we support a way of living and a way of being that I think is really recognized around the world.
In terms of the academic world and in terms of our communities, I think we have some of the real makings of being a magnet both for our students who stay and for others around the world. At the same time, though, we cannot send a message to our own students and to the world that we don't really think they're a good investment at an international level. They do need to eat. They need to pay for housing. They need all of that.
I welcome the witnesses who are with us today.
Mr. Gaffield, I'm happy to see you again. I think this is your fourth or fifth the visit. It's always pleasant to hear from you.
I think the picture of the situation is pretty clear. I was looking at our last discussion and, on December 5 of last year, you said the investment situation was rather worrisome. Some words struck me when I reread your testimony. You represent the 15 largest Canadian universities and receive nearly 85% of funding. We're talking about billions of dollars, here. Your testimony today is therefore serious. On December 5 of last year, you said that the stagnation of scholarship funds over the last 20 years revealed indifference and inattention. In the beginning, Mr. Gaffield, very sincerely, I told myself it might be a misunderstanding on the part of the government. However, it is now evident that it's not just a misunderstanding. I'm 100% sure of it. Unfortunately, the government takes for granted scientific researchers, the university system, the college system and all the people in graduate-level education. I find it embarrassing, even absurd, for a government not to understand the importance of investing in research today. You know that the decisions and investments we make today may not be a political win. However, they will be a win for our society as a whole in 10, 20 and 30 years.
Understand that there are 6,000 graduate scholarships in Canada. However, there are 240,000 students. You can see that a small percentage of people get scholarships. We've been informed that 80% of graduate-level students get their funding by working with senior researchers. In its report sponsored by the government, the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System, presided by Mr. Frederic Bouchard, highlighted that many students, if not most, don't get funding through scholarships. It's an undeniable issue because without considerable reinvestment, given the global competition for talent, Canada will very likely see another exodus of highly qualified people. I'm sure you know this, but I will say it again: Canada is the only G7 country to have lost researchers since 2016.
Here's the question I want to ask you: Is it fair to say that increasing granting agencies' overall funding is inextricably linked to increasing graduate-level scholarships if we want to truly tackle the issue of the next generation of scientists in Quebec and Canada?
There's no doubt we have a tendency to take the quality of our research and innovation ecosystem in Canada for granted. We often hear that Canada has the best universities and life is good. Without a doubt, we are very proud of the quality of our researchers and our students. However, the current reality is such that, when it comes to the number of citizens in Canada with a graduate degree, Canada is 28th in the OECD's rankings. People are very surprised when I tell them that. Why is Canada now ranked 28th?
One of the things we haven't done—and I think your committee has been a huge solution to that—is that we haven't spent enough time really keeping track. We built a good system, and then we said, “Okay, it's fine. We don't have to worry about it.” Meanwhile, the world kept changing, and we didn't sufficiently track the fact that we've fallen to a place where, if you look at the educational structure in the country, it does not correspond to the kind of high-value economy society that we need in the 21st century.
We can't imagine ourselves building this high-value economy and society, this world of intangibles, this world of adding value and building a sustainable and just future. We can't do that with the kind of investment that makes us look like we're on the path to being a kind of new colony in the 21st century, because we'll be so dependent on other countries.
As you know, when they look at us, it's going to be easy for them to just continue to see critical minerals now or see things in the ground, rather than seeing us, as we were talking about earlier, as a sovereign country with domestic capability that has a place on the world stage.
Thank you, and thanks again to Mr. Gaffield for being here once again. It's always a pleasure to have you and your expertise before us. Thank you for also pointing out that you feel that this study could have the most significant impact of any of our studies so far on the Canadian science and research scene.
Mr. Sousa made a statement that all students struggle. Just to counter that, I didn't struggle when I was a grad student. I was lucky enough to get an NRC scholarship. I predate the tri-councils in my career, but it was plenty for me to have room and board and all the things necessary. I didn't have to worry about working outside of the university.
You have a long history of working in the university scene, in the research scene at the national level, could you comment on the higher level of overall government investment for universities, both at the provincial and federal level? It seems to have declined over the last 20, 30 and 40 years. One of the side effects of that, of course, is the increasing tuition that students have to pay on top of room and board.
Could you spend a little time talking about that and how that plays into this whole question we're talking about today?
Thank you so much. That's such an important question because, as we know, in the Canadian structure, the dossier of building a robust research and innovation system is, in fact, a federal-provincial partnership.
What is so important about the federal role, though, is its leadership role. If you look at the history of Canada, federal initiatives are what sent the message across the country that it is a case of national sovereignty and domestic capability—that we, as a country, are going to move forward. It is federal leadership that has been consistently key. Whether you go back to.... Think about the National Research Council or the creation of the federal granting councils and so on. Those were the ones that started to move Canada from being a real intellectual colony as late as the 1960s.
We've told this story before. In the 1960s, almost all professors—80% of professors in Canadian universities—had been trained outside Canada. We had a relatively small graduate system and so on. It was federal leadership that sent the word to the entire country that we had to change in the later 20th century. That was doubled down on in the mid-1990s and the recent era.
National importance, domestic security, sovereignty and all of that, it's federal leadership that drives those. If provinces see, to some extent, that it's not a top federal priority for making a better future, it is really not going to help us.
I want to add that the scholarship I got in the mid-1970s made me decide to stay in Canada. I was looking at going elsewhere for my grad studies and that scholarship allowed me to stay here.
I'm also happy to hear that your organization, U15—the big universities—is embracing the Bouchard report. From what I can tell, it calls for an annual 10% increase in the tri-council grants.
You just mentioned in passing a 3% cut. I've heard this, too, from NSERC. I wonder whether you could expand on what the risk of that is.
Thank you very much for that question. Again, it goes back to our earlier discussion in terms of our paying attention and staying focused on this.
In the most recent budget, all departments were told to cut by 3%. It was a little line in there somewhere. We are exceedingly concerned that, not only did that budget not increase the tri-council funding and so on, it gave a 3% cut at the worst time possible. I think we need to investigate this. My understanding is that the situation is, in fact, worse than we have been thinking. Again, it's part of our responsibility, and your committee....
You know, it wasn't that long ago we didn't have a committee like this set up. It was taken for granted that, yes, everything's going along well, so we didn't have this. Your committee, I think, has played a key role in ensuring we start paying attention and don't take it for granted. We just can't take this for granted. We have to see it as the way in which Canada is going to have a bright future.
It's a pleasure to join you.
Ontario Tech University acknowledges the lands and the people of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, which is covered under the Williams Treaties, and we're situated on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas, a branch of the greater Anishinabe nation, which includes Algonquin, Ojibwa, Odawa and Potawatomi.
I'm here today to speak to you about an issue that impacts Canadians' competitiveness on the international stage. As you know, we fall behind our peer nations on R and D spend at 1.55% of GDP. The latest OECD average is at 2.7%, the U.S. at 3.45% and Finland at 2.9%. The countries closest to our spend are Estonia and Portugal.
Canada’s peers are recognizing the opportunities of investing in research and have made significant commitments to increase support. As you know, in the United States, the Chips and Science Act includes over $200 million U.S. in new funding for fundamental research.
Without similar ambition, Canada risks falling far behind the OECD average. The government’s own advisory panel concluded that Canada will continue falling behind our peers if we fail to increase core funding for the granting agencies and support our early-career research talent. Canada must step up, show ambition and implement these recommendations from the panel’s excellent work. In Canada, most of that spend is still by government and that tells us some of the issues we have in the private sector in the R and D spend.
At the centre of R and D are people, of course, and highly qualified personnel. These are our doctoral and graduate students. Doctoral fellowships and grad scholarships in general have largely remained stagnant over the last 20 years. For the lucky few students who receive these awards, they have to be topped up with tri-council funding from their supervisors—their principal investigators—but even the tri-council has been frozen. In real dollars, we are losing ground. The value and the numbers of Canada graduate scholarships and doctoral fellowships have not increased in two decades—halving in real value. Addressing the stagnation in scholarship funding is an important pillar in the broader effort to tackle the stagnation of funding for the last 20 years.
Graduate programs in Canadian universities are one of the key pipelines for talent, which is fundamental for economic growth in Canada. Investing in the support of grad students through the Canada graduate scholarships program and the fundamental science research funding provided by the tri-agencies will be critical to retaining talent in Canada and driving innovation. Graduate studies in public universities are a fundamental means by which Canadians invest in themselves. While provincial governments are increasingly subsidizing learning opportunities outside of universities, we build capacity in this country by investing in education. Education is how we transform ourselves and, by extension, the world around us, our nation and the globe. Investing in our public institutions is capacity building and citizenship cultivation.
Inflation, and especially the increase in rental accommodations, has very significantly affected the cost of living for grad students. Tri-council doctoral fellowships, including Canada graduate scholarships, have not increased over the past two decades. Adjusted for inflation, the amount of funding per student from the tri-agencies and the Canada Foundation for Innovation is at the lowest it’s been since 2000 and is set to decline even more drastically as the funding commitment following the Naylor report is now coming to an end. The research granting agencies are the bedrock of our research ecosystem in Canada, as you know, and now is the time to renew the government’s commitment to fundamental research by increasing funding for the granting agencies.
Graduate-level funding is fundamental to recruit and retain high-quality students in Canadian graduate programs, and universities are a catalyst for economic activity, employing nearly 410,000 people and contributing more than $48 billion to Canada’s GDP across the country. Every year, we're conducting research worth more than $16 billion and fostering new and innovative ideas that will help us solve problems for today and, more importantly, for tomorrow, in everything from climate change to pandemics.
Graduate studies are a key element of talent acquisition from around the globe. While Canada’s funding for graduate students has largely remained stagnant, countries such as Finland and many others we've heard about today are subsidizing graduate students with free tuition—until completion of a first master's degree anyway—and funding to ensure their students can focus exclusively on their studies. As you note, more students are now part-time or working in part-time jobs while studying, merely to make ends meet.
Tri-council funds overwhelmingly—an estimated 80%—go ultimately to support students. Increasing tri-council funds overall, for this reason, directly flows to students. The Bouchard report highlighted that it's “critically important” that core funding of the granting councils be increased, which is why we were disappointed that we did not see such funding in the budget of 2023.
Canada must act in the fall economic statement to ensure the welfare of the federal research ecosystem. Without increased funding, more students need to take on additional jobs. The unintended consequences are that it increases the time it takes them to complete the requirements for their degrees and, obviously, the brain drain.
Ontario Tech seeks to democratize graduate education. Historically, graduate studies have been associated with a privileged few—
Thanks, Mr. Chair. I'm going to split my time with Corey Tochor.
My first question is for Mr. Gaffield.
It's good to see you.
Our previous witness, Mr. Colterjohn from McMaster, a highly accomplished individual, outlined his current situation. He has his money coming in from his work but also from a second job.
He seemed to agree with me, and our thoughts aligned a bit. It seems like there's a lot of bureaucracy in the university system, and a lot of dollars touch a lot of hands before it gets to the people who are doing the research. Does that system need to be completely changed so that we cut out all the bureaucracy and that it goes right to the person needing the money?
Do we need to look at bringing in companies that have a vested interest in these individuals after they're done their school?
It's a question, I would say, that touches every aspect of all our institutions across the private, public and non-profit sectors. One thing that I think happened in the later 20th century was an effort to build into our organizations the kind of frameworks and structures for accountability and responsibility that would ensure that everything worked at the highest standards.
There's no doubt that, in doing that, at times we haven't sought the most efficient ways of doing that across all sectors, so what I think we're all doing now—my sense is that we're doing it in every company and government institution that I've been close to—is finding more efficient ways of doing what we're doing. The Bouchard report, for example, was certainly down that path.
Can we coordinate better, can we be more efficient, can we simplify and so on? I think this is a shared pursuit everywhere and one that will definitely continue to be important as we try to optimize every dollar.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Welcome to our witnesses.
Dr. Gaffield, you mentioned that we need to attract the best and the brightest of students, and we all agree that we have to do that. You also mentioned how Canada has invested in the quality of the research environment and the infrastructure we have, quite frankly, across the country. In my own province of Nova Scotia, I see that every day and every week in the institutions we have, and in the leading professors and the supervisors we have.
Yes, I have to say that I definitely agree with you in that we are a committed country, committed people, to being an inclusive society, which tends to bring us talent from around the globe. They want to come, to stay, to learn and to contribute to Canada.
I appreciate that you said this committee is part of the solution, and I feel that. I think I'm going to agree with you. I was very proud when this committee was formed, and proud of the members, who were the inaugural members of the science and research committee when we started on this in the fall of 2021, because in fact, it had not existed before.
I do believe that we have been able to raise awareness and to shed a lot of light on many topics, one of which is exactly the one we're dealing with today. I would say that, for many, sometimes, some things have fallen through the cracks, and I suspect this is definitely one of them.
We've also talked about how it's a holistic approach. It's not simply one item in terms of increasing the graduate scholarships, or doing whatever. It's a holistic approach to solving the problem. I think Dr. Nemer and many others have mentioned that. I think a lot of the issues as well are because of the cost of living and the challenges that many face.
With the few minutes that we have remaining—you've been a professor, you've been someone who has led one of those councils, and in your current role with the U15—what are some of the most important things you can give us to finalize our work here in the committee? Not one answer is going to do the job here.
Let me raise two points. You mentioned two things that I think are so key.
One is how access to funding for graduate students, through the research grants or through graduate scholarships and fellowships, is really the way we're going to pursue an inclusive society. As you know, those from disadvantaged families and those from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to be the most easily discouraged by not having access and not having that support.
Clearly, we don't want a system in which the only Canadians who are able to continue into graduate school are those who come from advantaged families. We want to tap the entire pool of talent. In fact, that was why the scholarship and the fellowship programs were created—to really level the playing field and to give everyone the chance.
In building an inclusive society, we have to understand that being able to make it financially viable for the talented students is absolutely key. We can't make it an elite kind of preordained system. That is not what Canada is trying to do.
The second thing you alluded to is the added advantage for our students to be able to work in research projects. There are many things in that, quickly: learning about how to pursue original thinking; learning about creativity; learning about critical thinking; how to actually assess whether different strategies work in terms of advancing knowledge; sophisticated research skills; how to deal with obstacles when you meet them in your work; how to work in teams, which most of them will do when they finish graduate school; how to manage projects; how to balance accountability and efficiency, and so on, with the kind of discovery impulses that are needed—that creativity piece.
It's that rich array of those deep competencies that I think are required that explains why we need to financially ensure that talented Canadians have a chance to pursue graduate work and that we can become a magnet internationally, and thereby, we can build Canada as a successful 21st-century country.
Mr. Johnson, Support Our Science previously told us that, according to a study, 38% of Canadian PhDs leave Canada to go and work abroad, mainly in the United States. They're looking for better research conditions in countries where governments decided to invest in research and development. Thirty-eight percent is a serious brain drain.
Mr. Gaffield, you said that, as a result, Canada was at risk of becoming a scientific colony. We invest in training high-level researchers, then we see them leave to create, innovate and invent elsewhere. We then become captives of foreign countries' goodwill in order to access the technology and innovation that will shape tomorrow's society.
Mr. Gaffield, what you said echoes a speech made in 1925 by Brother Marie‑Victorin, a man I deeply respect. He's one of the founders of ACFAS, l'Association francophone pour le savoir. I'd like to share a passage I read. It includes an excerpt from a speech given nearly a century ago, if you can imagine:
Sovereignty over knowledge is necessary for sovereignty over territory, the economy and national life: "We will never be a true nation until we stop being at the mercy of foreign capital, foreign expertise and foreign intellectuals; until we are our own masters through the possession of knowledge and the physical resources of our land and its flora and fauna."
What do you think of that statement?
Thanks, Dr. Murphy, for joining us from Ontario Tech University. I'm going to pick up on something you said about how Ontario Tech seeks to democratize education.
We often hear that education is the great equalizer, yet here we have a situation where, because of the stagnation of these scholarships, fellowships and other supports that students have been getting for the last 20 years, we are now selecting against students from lower-income families and other backgrounds who simply can't access education at these costs.
I wonder if you could comment on that. Why is this issue in the science and research world of Canada perhaps the most critical at this moment?
Thanks for the question. I think it's an important one.
Coming to you from the Durham region of the suburbs of Toronto, I can tell you that we disproportionately have students who are new Canadians. They are the first in their families to attend educational institutions. We do not have a lot of entitlement, or we have virtually none.
I can tell you in those situations.... We just came through convocation last week. I hear stories all the time of our young people who want to go into graduate programs and need to take time off to get enough money in order to fund those studies. It's having a very real impact.
The future of our country surrounds me, and I'm uplifted by those students every day. What we need to do is figure out a way whereby we can invest in their futures, understanding that it's the collective Canadian future.
We're not moving electric vehicles further, we're not doing things with quantum and we're not tackling climate change unless we have all of the most brilliant minds, and if we're truly committed to diversity, we have to see that there's an economic lens on this.
Thank you to both of our witnesses for inspirational testimony and great answers to our questions. I know that is going to help us in our study. Thank you for taking the time. As you mentioned, convocation season is a busy time for both of you. Thank you for your testimony. If there's any more information, of course, please submit it to the clerk in writing, and we'll make that part of our review as we go forward.
I have a couple of reminders before we adjourn.
Witness lists are due at the end of the day today for the study on Canadian research partnerships with entities connected to the People's Republic of China. We'll begin that study on Tuesday, so get those witness lists in by the end of the day today.
Also, we'll be meeting on Thursday, June 15, to resume this study on the Government of Canada's graduate scholarship and post-doctoral fellowship programs. We have our last witnesses lined up for two panels for that.
Is it the will of the committee to adjourn?
An hon. member: Yes.
The Chair: Nobody is fighting me.
We'll adjourn. Thank you very much.