NSERC Discovery Grants Survey

Dear colleagues,

If you applied for an NSERC Discovery Grant since 2013, you will have received a survey from NSERC. This includes several questions about the funding model that was set out in the Long Range Plan for Research in the Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, (LRP) published in 2012. We urge you to complete this survey carefully: it will impact the decisions made at NSERC about the Discovery portfolio.

The survey includes questions about the program “Collaborative and Thematic Resources in the Mathematical Sciences” (CTRMS). This program funds PIMS, BIRS, Fields, CRM, AARMS and CANSSI. It was established following the publication of the Long Range Plan.

Background on the LRP

When the LRP was commissioned by NSERC, the program which funded which PIMS, BIRS, Fields and CRM was being phased out. NSERC staff suggested that an envelope of funding could be created for the Mathematics and Statistics Evaluation Group (EG1508).  NSERC also directed the LRP to be established under a model of flat funding. 

The LRP subsequently recommended that such an envelope indeed be created. The budget for the envelope was the existing budget for Discovery Grants, and the existing budget for PIMS, BIRS, Fields and CRM.  The LRP further recommended that the partition of the funding between Discovery Grants and Institutes’ funding be set at its 2012 proportions. The precise wording in the LRP is (emphasis added):

Under a scenario of stable funding, the new Mathematics and Statistics envelope should have a fixed percentage of its funds allocated for support of Canada’s network of mathematical and statistical sciences institutes and the Banff International Research Station. We recommend that this amount be 19 per cent for the next five-­year cycle, based on the current annual budget of about $21 million for Discovery Grants and thematic and collaborative resources. Within this 19 per cent portion, we recommend that the percentage currently allocated to BIRS be reserved for its next competition.

The LRP also recommended the establishment of CANSSI (emphasis added):

The LRP Steering Committee strongly endorses the establishment of the Canadian Statistical Sciences Institute (CANSSI). In light of current constraints on resources, funding for CANSSI will need to be developed by working with the mathematical sciences insti­tutes and Mprime, and by seeking additional funding outside the NSERC portfolio. Should resources become available within the Discovery Grant and thematic and collaborative resources portion of the envelope to support new thematic and collaborative resources, we recommend NSERC issue a call for proposals. We would expect CANSSI to respond to this call.

There are several other recommendations in the LRP, around process and goals for strengthening research in the mathematical and statistical sciences; these are collected in Chapter 8 (p.81). A very important recommendation was the creation of a committee of academics, called the “Long Range Plan Implementation Committee” to liaise with NSERC, to monitor the implementation of the LRP, and to advise on the 81/19 split of envelope funding between Discovery Grants and Institutes. The current Mathematics and Statistics Liaison Committee is NSERC’s response to that recommendation, although the interactions of the committee with NSERC have been rocky.

Current Funding of Institutes and BIRS

Each of the three mathematical sciences institutes committed, in their proposals submitted in 2013, to earmark funds to create CANSSI and to expand AARMS.[1] This five-year award was extended by NSERC for one additional year to allow time for the review of programs currently underway.

New funding is badly needed for the EG1508 envelope. CANSSI and AARMS are poised to apply as independent institutes in the next competition. The mathematical sciences institutes are being eroded by inflation at the same time that they have expanded their range of activities. The unprecedented growth in statistical science has led to rapid hiring of research faculty and expansion of graduate programs, which in turn increases the pressure on individual researchers’ Discovery Grants.

The LRP carried out a careful study of the leveraging provided by CRM, Fields, BIRS and PIMS:

NSERC gets exceptional value for its investment in the mathematical sciences institutes. While individual institutes in Canada are funded at much lower levels at the federal level than in the US, they have all been extremely successful at leveraging this funding. In particular, the total funding of each institute in Canada is comparable to that in the US. The institutes receive major funding from provincial governments and their partner universities, and also receive support from international agencies, commercial and industrial partners, and private contributions. The NSF, for example, is an important contributor to mathematics and statistics in Canada, not only by its direct support of BIRS, but also by grants for support of American participants in institute programs.

Estimates of the total leveraging of direct NSERC funding range from four-to-one, purely on the basis of cash flow, to considerably higher if one includes space, matching post-doctoral and student support, and co-sponsorship of conferences and educational activities.

Please complete the survey, and include your opinions where you are given the option. The future of mathematical and statistical sciences research in Canada is at stake.

[1] The current funding model for AARMS was established in 2002 by PIMS, Fields and CRM; AARMS was established in 1996.

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