Members of the scientific community:
I would like to start off by wishing you a very happy new year, full of joy, health and exciting breakthroughs for you and your students, assistants and collaborators. I know that it’s hard to top the thrill of discovery!
The past four months were replete with emotions and change: a new government elected in September; the creation of a new department, the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science et de la Technologie (MESRST), and the appointment of Pierre Duchesne as minister; a new provincial budget that cut funding to the Fonds; preparatory meetings ahead of the Sommet sur l’enseignement supérieur in February; and the new national research and innovation policy, the Politique nationale de la recherche et de l’innovation (PNRI), which is expected to be announced this spring! Also underway are the development of the Fonds’ 2013-2016 strategic plans, which will be adopted by the boards of directors and the MESRST in March or April, the follow-ups on the Auditor General’s report and many more initiatives. Still, in spite of these changes and projects, the Fonds must continue their day-to-day activities, especially the evaluation committee meetings to award new scholarships and grants this spring. It seems that 2013 will be full of challenges, and it certainly promises to keep us all very busy!
A new department
I have met with Minister Duchesne several times since his appointment in September. Despite the difficult budget conditions, he has expressed his concern for the research community and supports its activities. At his request, I submitted recommendations on several issues, including the research component of the Sommet sur l’enseignement supérieur, the provincial research and innovation policy (PNRI), the federal grants and scholarships programs and the Comité stratégique sur la science et l’innovation (CSSI). In addition, the Fonds and the research community can count on formidable allies in the cabinet (former Acfas director and current chief of staff Esther Gaudreault and political advisor Benoit Dubreuil) and in the department (Christyne Tremblay, deputy minister who previously held the same position in the Ministère du Développement économique, de l'Innovation et de l'Exportation (MDEIE), Jean Belzile, assistant deputy minister for research who also held a similar position in the MDEIE, and Christiane Piché, assistant deputy minister for higher education who held a similar position in the former Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport and with whom the Fonds has collaborated for several years). Together, they are a strong and very devoted team.
It goes without saying that the minister and the department have made the Sommet sur l’enseignement supérieur their priority. I took part in the two preliminary meetings in Québec and Trois-Rivières as an observer, and I will attend the meeting at the end of January in Rimouski to further discuss research issues. These consultations are thought-provoking and help elucidate avenues for discussions and solutions leading up to the summit in February. However, it is somewhat disappointing that such little attention is paid to research and graduate training. Let’s hope that the February talks will spark a debate on the importance of research to ensure higher education of the utmost quality driven by excellence. All of the information on the pre-summit meetings is available online on the Web site of the MESRST.
The national research and innovation policy (PNRI) and strategic planning
In addition to the Sommet, the three Fonds are playing an active role in the development of the province’s research and innovation policy (PNRI), which is expected to launch in spring 2013. The policy is in line with the government’s priority to make Québec a knowledge economy and especially a knowledge society focused on public good, as the premier announced in her inaugural address. The PNRI, though distinct from the former Québec Research and Innovation Strategy (QRIS), will take into account the results of the consultations led by the Acfas and the Association de la recherche industrielle du Québec (ADRIQ), in which many of you took part. The reports on these consultations were submitted to the CSSI. The scientific directors of the Fonds and I have formulated our recommendations on the priorities of the upcoming policy to the minister and his team, including the doubling of the Fonds’ budgets over five years, the modernization of training programs and more financial support for infrastructures and large-scale intersectoral projects. We also had the opportunity to discuss our proposals at a meeting with the minister in late December. However, you may still submit your comments and suggestions regarding the policy since we are still in the preparatory phase. We will be working on the project until spring.
Moreover, the three Fonds must submit their 2013-2016 strategic plans to the government by March 31. The scientific directors and their teams are working in close collaboration with members of their respective boards of directors and the administrative body of the Fonds to outline these preliminary plans. Consultations on the plans will be held in the upcoming weeks. The work is based on an initial consultation with members of the scientific community held this past summer, several regular sessions and a joint session with the three Fonds’ boards of directors. Our priorities are the same as those set out for the upcoming PNRI: training new generations, ensuring career support for researchers and fostering local and international collaborations. Please do not hesitate to send us your comments and suggestions.
Fonds de recherche budgets
Announced with the tabling of the provincial budget in December, the 2013-2014 allocations granted to the Fonds de recherche du Québec were disappointing and certainly had a destabilising effect. Essentially, the cuts to the 2013-2014 budgets of each of the Fonds were triggered by the end of the second QRIS (March 31, 2013). These budgetary appropriations, which the Fonds had received for the past six years, were not extended or included in the Fonds’ budget bases. The decision has led to a 30% cut for the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies (FRQNT) and 13% cuts for the two other Fonds. The budgets of each Fonds are now equivalent to those allocated prior to the launch of the first QRIS in 2007. The directors of the Fonds and members of the boards of directors will discuss the issue in February in order to determine options to balance their 2013-2014 budgets. Of course, we are also working in very close collaboration with the minister’s office and the department to determine more acceptable measures that would not threaten the very existence of certain research centres, programs or teams. We will keep you informed of all developments and thank you for your support in these difficult times. I am confident that we will find a solution by working with the minister and our partners, since the government’s priority is to create a true knowledge-based society.
A few words on the large-scale intersectoral research projects
As you know, Maryse Lassonde, the scientific director of the FRQNT, organized a northern research forum this past September. Investigators in various fields and university administrators took part in the initiative. Together, they determined the tools and approaches that should facilitate and promote northern research (see the presentations, in French only), since most stakeholders prefer the idea of creating a consortium with current networks and teams. While we hope to launch the program as soon as possible, we must consider the current budget cuts. In fact, the situation is the same for the Vieillir en santé project (see the report on the forum held on November 27, 2012, in French only), since we are currently assessing the positive economic impacts of our strategy. Two other forums will be held soon: one on the place of art and culture in Québec and another on sustainable development. Also, this spring, a similar meeting will be held on graduate training following the Sommet sur l’enseignement supérieur. It will be led by Normand Labrie, the scientific director of the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC). We hope to follow up on these forums as part of the PNRI.
Finally, the Fonds have planned several activities for the next Acfas conference in Québec in May, including a session on research in Québec and another on the accomplished student researchers who received an Étudiants-chercheurs étoiles Award (visit the FRQ Web site to find out more on the student researchers who were present at the last Prix du Québec ceremony). We certainly hope to see you all in Québec! We also look forward to receiving your comments and suggestions on the initiatives outlined in this message or any other issues pertaining to the Fonds de recherche du Québec.
Rémi Quirion, O.C., C.Q., PhD, FRSC
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