How University-Based Research is Funded

Mississauga Board of Trade
Mississauga Board of Trade


February 24, 2016


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devin-kreugerBy Devin Kreuger

I was speaking with an undergraduate student recently about the research of one of her professors, and she remarked in passing that she’d prefer her tuition dollars be used on student services rather than research. Her incorrect assumption about tuition made me realize that for many outside of academia, the nuts and bolts of research funding is a mystery.

Academic research is big business in Canada—the fifteen largest Canadian universities conduct ~$8.5B in research annually. So where does that money come from? A good portion of Canadian research funding comes from the Federal government through the Tri-Councils (SSHRC, NSERC & CIHR), and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)

The Federal government recognizes that research in the social sciences and humanities provides a foundation for a prosperous society, as social scientists and humanities scholars “advance knowledge and build understanding about individuals, groups and societies—what we think, how we live, and how we interact with each other and the world around us.”

SSHRC’s most popular funding program, the Insight Program, aims to “build knowledge and understanding about people, societies, and the world”, in order to deepen, widen and increase our collective understanding of individuals and societies, as well as to inform the search for solutions to societal challenges.”

Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC)

Where SSHRC supports research in the humanities and social sciences, NSERC supports a wide range of research initiatives across the wide range of natural science and engineering disciplines. NSERC aims to develop the next generation of science leaders, and to allow Canada’s greatest minds to explore the unexplained and discover heretofore-unknown truths.

Researchers in engineering and the natural sciences are typically funded through NSERC’s Discovery Grants Program. NSERC recognizes that the creativity and innovation that are at necessarily at the heart of all research advances need both time and freedom to flourish. So, to facilitate advances and discoveries in engineering and natural sciences, NSERC provides stable base-funding for five-year terms, to allow researchers to explore and discover in their areas of expertise.

Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR)

The life sciences and health-related research are supported by CIHR, through its thirteen distinct ‘Institutes’: Aboriginal Peoples’ Health; Aging; Cancer Research; Circulatory & Respiratory Health; Gender & Health; Genetics; Health Services & Policy Research; Human Development, Child & Youth Health; Infection & Immunity; Musculoskeletal Heath & Arthritis; Neurosciences, Mental Health & Addiction; Nutrition, Metabolism & Diabetes; and Population & Public Health.

Through a variety of research funding programs, which have recently been evolving, CIHR provides research funding support along four themes of health research: (a) biomedical; (b) clinical; (c) health system services; and (d) social, cultural, environmental & population health.

Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI)

SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR grants are ideal to fund many of the basic expenses involved in research, such as salaries for research assistants and students, consumable supplies, and researcher travel. But large-scale equipment and infrastructure needs cannot be met through the Federal government’s Tri-Councils.

In 1997, recognizing the need for investments in research equipment and infrastructure to improve Canada’s global competitiveness, the Federal government established CFI, “to strive to build our nation’s capacity to undertake world-class research and technology development to benefit Canadians”.

Devin Kreuger is Director of the Office of the Vice-Principal Research at the University of Toronto Mississauga. He can be contacted at Visit

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Mississauga Board of Trade
Mississauga Board of Trade
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