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Section 2:

Analysis of Program Activities by Strategic Outcome

Strategic Outcome:

Highly Skilled Science and Engineering Professionals in Canada

By supporting 28,000 students and fellows at Canadian universities and abroad, providing programs to support university faculty, and promoting science and engineering to Canadian youth, NSERC will ensure a reliable supply of highly qualified personnel (HQP) for Canadian industry, government, and academia. The following provides details of NSERC’s performance for the three program activities that fall under this strategic outcome.

Program Activity Promote Science and Engineering

Description: This program activity encourages popular interest in science, math and engineering and aims to develop science, math and engineering abilities in Canadian youth.
Expected Result: Student interest in research in the sciences, math and engineering is encouraged.
Indicators Results Performance Status
  • Number of organizations supported through PromoScience
  • Impact on teaching practices (K–12)
  • 121 organizations were supported in 2008-09, who in turn, engaged in science activities for more than 500,000 Canadian children.
  • By the third year of the CRYSTAL program, 5,093 teachers have participated in various science and mathematic education training activities.
  • Met All – NSERC’s relatively small investment leverages the resources and outreach of partner organizations.
  • Met All – A recent evaluation indicated positive results for knowledge translation and outreach activities.


Financial Resources ($ millions)
Human Resources (Full-Time Equivalents)
Actual Spending Planned Actual Difference
6.3 6.3 4.7 3 2 -1

To help improve the interest of Canadian youth in science and engineering, NSERC has invested in two programs: PromoScience and the Centres for Research in Youth, Science Teaching and Learning.

PromoScience provides support to non-profit and public organizations that work with young Canadians in order to build their interest in science and engineering, motivate and encourage their participation in science and engineering activities, and train teachers who are responsible for the science and math education of young Canadians. The program is allowing organizations to expand their offerings and to engage many more young Canadians, especially girls and aboriginal youth. This is critical as young Canadians are less inclined to select science or engineering as a discipline when they enter university (see Figure 2.1) as compared to many other nations.

Figure 2.1
PromoScience Recipient
Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST)

The Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST), a non-profit organization, runs the ms infinity (math + science = infinite options) program that connects young women with positive female role models who are pursuing dynamic careers and education in S&T and encourages them to continue studying math, science and technology throughout secondary school to broaden their career opportunities. As a result of NSERC funding, 728 girls from across British Columbia participated in hands-on workshops, tele-mentoring, networking and community group science days throughout 2008. Through the varied activities, the participants learned many valuable lessons about schooling and career options and had the opportunity to connect their dreams with a role model.

The CRYSTAL Pilot Program was created in October 2003. CRYSTAL provides a forum for the many partners who share an interest in developing and enhancing the skills of, and resources available to, science and mathematics teachers, and in enriching the preparation of Canadian children in these foundation subjects. The pilot program provided funding to five Centres. Findings from a recent evaluation were as follows:

  • The program has increased the scale and changed the nature of research activities in science, mathematics and technology education.
  • CRYSTAL is increasing the understanding of ways to improve science, mathematics and technology education for both researchers and teachers. Collaborations between researchers and teachers have increased understanding of the need, and how best, to improve the teaching of science and mathematics.
  • The program has increased knowledge translation and outreach activities, with the Centres having undertaken a wide variety of activities with most activities focused on reaching teachers. By the end of the third year, Centres had conducted an estimated 677 knowledge translation activities targeting teachers and developed approximately 479 knowledge translation tools for teachers.

NSERC prizes are also a component of this program activity. NSERC prizes recognize outstanding individual Canadian researchers, research teams and students. They enhance the career development of outstanding and highly promising scientists and engineers and distinguish the sustained excellence of faculty members at Canadian universities. They also publicly recognize lasting partnerships in R&D between university and industry and celebrate young Canadian entrepreneurs.

To recognize the important achievements of Canadian research scientists and engineers, and in the process, to help retain faculty in Canada, NSERC awards significant research prizes to individuals and teams. The 2008-09 winner of NSERC’s Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering is highlighted below.

Paul Corkum, Physics
University of Ottawa and National Research Council

When it comes to stop-action photography, Paul Corkum has left an indelible mark on the world. He is credited with developing attosecond laser pulses—flashes of light so short (one billionth of a billionth of a second) that they can provide images of electrons moving around atoms.

This technology offers unprecedented access to the sub-atomic world and is just the latest of a long string of achievements that have earned Dr. Corkum the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.

For more than 30 years, he has pushed the boundaries of human understanding of how light and matter interact. His accomplishments have consistently drawn high praise from his peers around the world.

Manipulating electrons in attosecond time could potentially allow scientists to control and change chemical reactions in new ways, leading to advances in everything from medicine to engineering.  The next steps in combining the very fast with the very small, Dr. Corkum believes, will one day help medical researchers advance their understanding of cell processes, something that could enhance drug delivery.  It will also provide new tools and new fabrication methods for nanotechnology and new sub-cellular imaging methods.

Program Activity Support Students and Fellows

Description: This program activity supports the training of highly qualified personnel through scholarship and fellowship programs.
Expected Result: A supply of highly qualified people with leading-edge scientific and research skills for Canadian industry, government, and universities.
Indicators Results Performance Status
  • Percentage of students supported staying in Canada after their studies1
  • Average salary of scholarship recipients vs. general population after completion of studies1
  • Average completion rates among recipients vs. general NSE student population1
  • 82% of students supported were working in Canada 9 years after their award. More than one-half of those abroad were planning to come back to Canada.
  • The average salary of NSERC-funded students was $62,000 versus a comparable group in the general population of $47,000.
  • 96% of the respondents completed the degree(master’s or doctoral) for which they received NSERC funding
  • Met All – A very large % of students supported are working in their field in Canada. These students are highly skilled and mobile; losses due to emigration must be expected.
  • Met All – The salary levels of graduates compare well with the general population. However, they are lower than in other countries.
  • Exceeded – The high completion rate is a phenomenal success when compared to the completion rate of less than 80% for all NSE graduate students.


Financial Resources ($ millions)
Human Resources(Full-Time Equivalents)
Actual Spending Planned Actual Difference
146.2 157.8 151.4 59 58 -1

1. NSERC conducts several surveys of its scholarship and fellowship recipients and is able to assess performance against expected results. In addition, Statistics Canada collects labour market information that provides ample evidence of the successful career outcomes of NSE graduates. The indicators present data from 1,850 respondents for a 49% response rate to surveys of students 9 years after their award.

NSERC provides direct financial support to students from the undergraduate to postdoctoral levels through key programs such as:

  • Undergraduate Student Research Awards: Held in university (4,639) or industry laboratories (765), this program provides funding for an undergraduate student to spend a four-month work term in a university or industrial research environment.
  • Postgraduate Scholarships: At the master’s (1,274) and doctoral (1,651) levels, NSERC supports students by providing an annual stipend that enables them to continue to pursue their research interests. Up to four years of support is available over the course of a candidate’s graduate studies. Opportunities for study at institutions in Canada and abroad as well as at Canadian industrial laboratories (551) are available. Canada Graduate Scholarships (tenable only at Canadian universities) are awarded to the most outstanding candidates (1,525).
  • Postdoctoral and Industrial R&D Fellowships: These two-year awards support researchers who have completed their Ph.D., and provides them with funds to continue their programs of research. The awards may be held at any academic institution through a Postdoctoral Fellowship (487), or at a Canadian company that conducts research through an Industrial R&D Fellowship (177).

NSERC also funds students and fellows through support provided by an NSERC-funded professor from his or her NSERC grant. The training of 17,000 students is supported in full or in part through this route.

Since 1978, NSERC has supported the training of more than 80,000 master’s and doctoral students in the NSE. General macro-level economic outcomes for university graduates in the natural sciences and engineering provide ample evidence of the positive outcomes for NSERC-funded students, both directly and indirectly supported. As Figure 2.2 demonstrates, unemployment levels for persons seeking work in natural science or engineering occupations are considerably below national levels; annual salaries for this group are nearly one-third greater than the national average; and employment opportunities continue to grow as the natural science and engineering labour force surpasses the 1,000,000 mark resulting in the fastest growing occupational group over the past 20 years.

NSERC-Funded Students Comment on Their Past Award
(2009 Survey)
  • “NSERC was invaluable to my education. It was allowed me to explore R&D to great success and I have developed several ideas into patents and/or products.”
  • “The funding I received through NSERC provided an opportunity for me to continue my education past what would have otherwise been possible. It was very beneficial to my personal and career development.”
  • “My NSERC scholarship was absolutely critical to my career; it allowed me to pursue training in a top level laboratory. I would not be where I am today without it!!!”
  • “The NSERC scholarship was the main reason for pursuing grad studies. It is definitely a valuable program that should be continued to help future grads. At the time it was very prestigious to have an NSERC scholarship.”
  • “Receiving an NSERC scholarship was a vitally important part of my graduate studies. Not only did it benefit me directly, but it freed my research supervisor to use his grant funds on additional students and supplies that he would not have been able to afford had my salary been drawn from his grants.”


Figure 2.2

Program Activity Attract and Retain Faculty

Description: This program activity aims to attract and retain faculty.
Expected Result: Enhanced research capacity in science and engineering.
Indicators Results Performance Status
  • New professors coming to Canada: number of foreign educated new applicants to NSERC’s Discovery Grants program
  • Attrition rates: percentage of NSERC funded professors retained in Canada
  • Number of new applications for Industrial Research Chairs to be created in Canadian universities
  • Canada continues to attract faculty from abroad in large numbers (see Figures 2.3 and 2.4).
  • Less than 0.5% of NSERC grantees leave Canada to work abroad in a given year (see Figure 2.5).
  • There were 29 new Industrial Research Chairs created in 2008-09, up from 20 in 2007-08.
  • Met All – Increases in  funding for university R&D in Canada has created a positive environment to attract foreign scientists and engineers.
  • Met All – An extremely small percentage of NSERC grantees are leaving the country for work abroad.
  • Met All – Even during difficult economic circumstances NSERC was able to create more new Chairs in 2008-09.


Financial Resources ($ millions)
Human Resources (Full-Time Equivalents)
Actual Spending Planned Actual Difference
167.7 169.3 152.8 25 23 -2


Key programs under this program activity include:

  • Canada Research Chairs: This tri-agency (NSERC, CIHR and SSHRC) program provides financial support for up to 2,000 professors across Canada, including 900 positions within the NSE. The key objective of this program is to enable Canadian universities to achieve the highest levels of research excellence and to become world-class research centres in the global knowledge-based economy.
  • Industrial Research Chairs (IRC), Other Chairs and Faculty Support Programs: The IRC program helps universities build the critical mass of expertise and long-term relationships with corporate partners in areas of research that are of importance to industry. Industrial Research Chairs can also enhance the ability of universities to recruit senior-level researchers and research leaders from industry or other sectors.

Figure 2.3 presents the number of new applicants to NSERC’s largest program, the Discovery Grants program, who received both their bachelor’s and Ph.D. degrees outside the country (this number is a good proxy for an overall evaluation of the “attraction” activity since the vast majority of new professors in the natural sciences and engineering apply to the program). As the figure indicates, Canadian universities continue to attract hundreds of foreign educated personnel every year to become professors. More than 30% of the large number of first-time NSERC applicants are foreign educated. Recent investment by the government in university research has created an attractive environment to conduct research and highly trained people from other countries are coming to Canada to pursue their career.

Figure 2.3

The Canada Research Chairs program has helped to create a research environment that is conducive to the long-term retention and attraction of top researchers. A significant number of Chairholders has been attracted from outside Canada and many top Canadian scientists have stayed in the country as a result of Chair support. Figure 2.4 presents the percentage of external recruits awarded a Canada Research Chair in the natural sciences and engineering since the program’s inception.

Figure 2.4

NSERC also tracks the reasons grantees provide when they terminate their awards before the end date. As shown in Figure 2.5, only a small number of professors receiving NSERC support listed “leaving the country” as the reason for terminating their award over the past decade. The number of NSERC-funded professors leaving the country is  an extremely small percentage of the nearly 12,000 professors receiving NSERC support each year and is much smaller than the number of new professors attracted to Canada each year (see Figures 2.3 and 2.4).

Figure 2.5

One of the 29 new Industrial Research Chairs in 2008-09 was awarded to Anthony Yeung of the University of Alberta for his work related to the oil sands. A profile of Dr. Yeung’s Chair is presented below:

Anthony Yeung
NSERC/Imperial Oil/Alberta Ingenuity/AERI Industrial Research Chair in Non-Aqueous Bitumen Extraction

The oil sands deposits in northern Alberta, with 175 billion barrels of oil that is recoverable using current technology, is the world’s second largest proven oil reserve (second only to Saudi Arabia). By year 2020, it is expected that the global supply of conventional oil will begin to decline. This will coincide, in marked contrast, to the continuous expansion of Canada’s oil sands industry. It is clear that, in the decades to come, the Canadian oil sands will be a major force in the world energy market. Unfortunately, the current method of extracting heavy oil from the sands, although viable, is impacting negatively on the environment. One of the major concerns is the high demand for fresh water from nearby lakes and rivers.

For the oil sands industry to be sustainable, it is imperative that novel “non-aqueous extraction technologies” be developed (methods of recovering heavy oil from the sand using very little or no water). The proposed Chair program, which is sponsored by Imperial Oil, Alberta Ingenuity and the Alberta Energy Research Institute, will spearhead such an endeavour. In particular, it will tackle the two major challenges that any non-aqueous process will inevitably encounter: the separation of fine solids from solvent-diluted heavy oil, and the recovery of residual hydrocarbon from reject sand grains. This research will focus on the basic science which underlies these challenges, invoking advanced principles of theoretical physics and colloid science. Results from this research will constitute the foundational knowledge that is essential to the design and commercialization of future non-aqueous extraction processes.

Strategic Outcome:

High Quality Canadian-Based Competitive Research in the NSE

Basic research provides the foundation for all scientific and technological advances, and also trains the people who can generate new knowledge in Canada and understand new knowledge generated around the world. The following provides details of NSERC’s performance for the two program activities that fall under this strategic outcome.

Program Activity Fund Basic Research

Description: This program activity invests in discovery through grants focusing on basic research activities.
Expected Result: The discovery, innovation and training capability of university researchers in the natural sciences and engineering is enhanced by the provision of support for on-going programs of basic research.
Indicators Results Performance Status
  • Number of publications and percentage share of world production
  • Average relative impact factor of Canadian publications in the NSE (comparison with other countries)
  • Higher education R&D spending as a percentage of GDP, compared to G8 countries
  • Canada produces more than 25,000 scientific publications annually, which represents 4.4% of the world total (see Figure 2.6).
  • The quality of Canadian scientific publications ranks highly in the G8 and the world (see Figure 2.8).
  • Canada is first in the G8 for spending on higher education R&D as a percentage of GDP (see Figure 2.9).
  • Met All – Canada has increased its share of world publications and is the most productive per capita in the G8 (see Figure 2.7).
  • Met All – Canada is among the world leaders in the quality of scientific publications.
  • Mostly Met – The government’s continued support of university R&D has improved Canada’s standing.


Financial Resources ($ millions)
Human Resources (Full-Time Equivalents)
Actual Spending Planned Actual Difference
379.4 381.3 375.6 122 127 +5

The main program under this activity is the Discovery Grants program. This program is the mainstay of support for university-based research. The program provides funding for ongoing programs of research. Researchers are free to work in the mode most appropriate for the research area and they may pursue new research interests provided they are within NSERC’s mandate. To be funded, they must demonstrate both research excellence and high productivity, and contributions to the training of HQP.

One of the first tangible outcomes of an investment in university R&D is a publication in a scientific or engineering journal. Since the vast majority (nearly 90%) of Canada’s scientific and engineering publications are produced by university researchers, publications are a good indicator of the immediate outcome from NSERC research funding and can be used to benchmark our performance against the rest of the world.

Canada is among an elite group of countries publishing a significant number of articles in science and engineering journals. Since the beginning of the century, Canadian researchers (all sectors) in the natural sciences and engineering (NSE) have increased their annual production of publications from roughly 20,000 per year to current averages of approximately 25,000 publications per year, as shown in Figure 2.6. Overall, Canada’s world share of NSE papers stood at 4.4% in 2007, ranking eighth in the world.

Figure 2.6

Indicators of productivity as they relate to scientific publication production can also be useful. One indicator is a measure of a country’s output of NSE publications per capita population. Figure 2.7 presents the 2007 per capita output per one million inhabitants for the G8. Using this criterion, Canada has the highest per capita output.

Figure 2.7

Similar to common rating systems, in which a higher score indicates more viewers, listeners or readers, citations are a measure of the potential use of a researcher’s work by fellow researchers. If a researcher’s work is being referenced or cited more often by his/her peers, then there may be more intrinsic value to the work. Based on the number of citations received by papers over the three years following the publication year, a standardized measure called the Average Relative Citation Factor (ARC) is then calculated for each country and field and normalized to 1.0 to indicate the world average. Figure 2.8 presents the ARC values for the G8 in the NSE in 2007. Canada’s ARC in the NSE ranks 5th and is only slightly behind the top four countries.

Figure 2.8

In 2007, member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) spent $180 billion on university research. Canadian university professors and students performed 6.1% of this total. When measured as a percentage of GDP, Canada spends more on university research than all of its G8 competitors (see Figure 2.9).

Figure 2.9

Program Activity Support for Research Equipment and Major Resources

Description: This program activity helps to support the establishment, maintenance and operation of the research equipment, major research resources and research capacity necessary to carry out high quality research in the natural sciences and engineering.
Expected Result: The discovery, innovation and training capability of university researchers in the natural sciences and engineering is supported by the access to research equipment and major regional or national research facilities.
Indicators Results Performance Status
  • Adequacy and impact of national and regional research facilities in Canada and level of access
  • Extent to which research equipment is up to date and sufficient to meet the needs of research programs
  • A recent evaluation indicated better use of facilities, increased collaboration among researchers and improved international competitiveness.
  • From a recent evaluation, 25% to 33% of existing equipment in university labs will require replacement over the coming five years.
  • Met All – Meeting the growing operating requirements of national and regional facilities is currently difficult.
  • Met All – Ongoing CFI and NSERC funding should continue to meet the needs for equipment in the short-term.


Financial Resources ($ millions)
Human Resources (Full-Time Equivalents)
Actual Spending Planned Actual Difference
41.5 54.4 76.5 23 23 0

The key programs under this program activity are:

  • Major Resources Support (MRS): The MRS program supports researchers’ access to major regional or national research facilities by assisting these facilities to remain in a state of readiness for researchers to use. This program is the vehicle for NSERC investments in facilities such as the Canadian Light Source synchrotron in Saskatoon and the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory.
  • Research Tools and Instruments Grants (RTI): CFI funding enhances the laboratory setting by funding major equipment and infrastructure purchases. RTI grants enable professors to purchase the smaller pieces of laboratory equipment necessary to conduct world-class research. This critical source of funding ensures researchers have access to the modern research tools required to ensure the maximum return on other investments in research, such as Discovery Grants.

Some of the major findings from a recent evaluation of NSERC’s Research Tools and Instruments (RTI), and the Major Resources Support (MRS) programs are presented below:

  • RTI funding leads to more, faster and more in-depth research as well as better trained HQP. These impacts were felt across the spectrum of disciplines, in all regions and in large and small institutions. These observations support the notion that the RTI program is achieving its objectives to enhance the discovery, innovation and training capability of university researchers.
  • Three key messages from this evaluation study were:
    • a significant proportion of the existing equipment infrastructure will require replacement over the coming five years — between one quarter and one third of the value of existing equipment is at play;
    • about 20% of existing equipment will require major maintenance over the coming five years; and
    • it is difficult for researchers to find funding for small equipment and NSERC is a major source.
  • As NSERC’s RTI grants are capped at $150,000 and with most of the awards less than $80,000, there is currently little overlap between NSERC’s RTI program and Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) grants. In fact, constraints to usage of CFI (large-scale, state-of-the-art projects within university strategic priorities) make unlikely a dramatic overlap in financial support with RTI/MFA/MRS projects. The current MRS program complements CFI funding for several facilities (e.g., Canadian Light Source) by providing the necessary operating and maintenance support to fully utilize the facilities.
  • The key impacts of the MRS program were identified as better use of the facilities, increased collaboration among researchers and improved international competitiveness of Canadian researchers.

Strategic Outcome:

Productive Use of New Knowledge in the NSE

Wealth is created when Canadians add value in producing goods and services that are sold in world markets and knowledge is the modern basis for adding value. NSERC aims to maximize the value of public investments in research for the benefit of all Canadians by promoting research-based innovation, university-industry partnerships, knowledge and technology transfer activities and the training of people with the required scientific and business skill sets to create wealth from new discoveries in the NSE. The following provides details of NSERC’s performance for the three program activities that fall under this strategic outcome.

Program Activity Fund Research in Strategic Areas

Description: This program activity funds research in areas of national importance and in emerging areas that are of potential significance to Canada.
Expected Result: Research and training in targeted and emerging areas of national importance is accelerated.
Indicators Results Performance Status
  • Trends in funding for research in the Federal S&T Strategy priority areas
  • Trends in number of organizations participating in Strategic Partnerships Programs
  • Partner satisfaction with project outcomes in targeted areas
  • More than 90% of Strategic Partnership funding is directed to Federal priority areas.
  • A growing number of firms are participating in the Strategic Partnerships Programs (see Figure 2.10).
  • Partner satisfaction with Strategic Project outcomes is high, with positive impacts realized.
  • Met All – Programs have consistently supported priority areas important to Canada and the government.
  • Met All – Impressive 40% increase in the number of industrial partners over the past 5 years.
  • Exceeded – Extremely high levels of partner satisfaction.


Financial Resources ($ millions)
Human Resources (Full-Time Equivalents)
Actual Spending Planned Actual Difference
104.5 116.6 84.3 36 35 -1

The key programs under this activity and the Strategic Partnerships are:

  • Strategic Project Grants: This program accelerates research and training in targeted and emerging areas of national importance. The research is early-stage with the potential to lead to breakthrough discoveries. The program target areas coincide extremely closely to the government’s current priority areas of the environment, energy, information and communications technologies, manufacturing, automotive applications, forestry, fisheries, and health.
  • Strategic Network Grants: This program funds large scale, complex research programs that involve multi-sectoral collaborations on a common research topic. The topic to be investigated can be of local concern, requiring a focused local network, or of regional or national importance, requiring a larger, more complex network.

The Strategic Partnerships Programs are designed to focus on priorities (NSERC Strategic Target Areas) and so provide an excellent framework to implement the S&T Strategy. An analysis of the 2008-09 Strategic Partnerships Program grants indicated that more than 90% of program funding was devoted to government priority areas.

In 2008-09, a total of $47.3M was leveraged from partners in Strategic Partnerships grants versus NSERC’s funding of $84.3M. Given the pre-competitive nature of Strategic Partnership grants, the resulting leverage ratio of 56% indicates excellent partner participation. The number of industrial partners in these programs continues to grow and in 2008-09 stood at 487, for a 40% increase over the past five years (see Figure 2.10).

Figure 2.10

In a five-year follow-up of NSERC’s Strategic Project grants, interviews were conducted with a total of 127 partners (67% response rate) from either industry or government. Some of the highlights from the survey are presented below:

  • Almost all respondents indicated that their Strategic Project grant experience had been worthwhile (i.e., 99.6% of university researchers, 95.7% and 100% of industry and public sector partners respectively).
  • Figure 2.11 presents the benefits industry and government partners realized from their participation on the Strategic Project grant.

Figure 2.11

Program Activity Fund University-Industry-Government Partnerships

Description: This program activity fosters collaborations between university researchers and other sectors, including government and industry, in order to develop new knowledge and expertise, and to transfer this knowledge and expertise to Canadian-based organizations.
Expected Result: Mutually beneficial collaborations between the private sector and researchers in universities, resulting in industrial or economic benefits to Canada.
Indicators Results Performance Status
  • Ratio of partner contributions to NSERC funding
  • Partner satisfaction with research results
  • Trend in number of companies involved in university-industry partnerships
  • Partners continue to contribute more funding than NSERC on CRD grants (see Figure 2.12).
  • Post award surveys indicate that partners are extremely satisfied with their collaboration with university researchers and students.
  • The number of firms participating with NSERC continues to grow (see Figure 2.13).
  • Mostly Met – Industrial partners continue to contribute a substantial amount of funding in NSERC’s partnership programs.
  • Met All – Partners indicate strong satisfaction and economic impacts.
  • Mostly Met – Number of firms participating in the CRD program is up 23% in the past five years.


Financial Resources ($ millions)
Human Resources (Full-Time Equivalents)
Actual Spending Planned Actual Difference
139.5 131.7 168.9 77 71 -6

The key programs under this program activity are:

  • Collaborative Research and Development (CRD) Grants: This program gives companies operating from a Canadian base access to the unique knowledge, expertise and educational resources available at Canadian postsecondary institutions and offers opportunities for mutually beneficial collaborations that result in industrial or economic benefits to Canada.
  • Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCEs): The Networks of Centres of Excellence (including the Business-Led Networks) are unique partnerships among universities, industry, government and not-for-profit organizations aimed at turning Canadian research and entrepreneurial talent into economic and social benefits for all Canadians. These nationwide, multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral research partnerships connect excellent research with industrial know-how and strategic investment. They create a critical mass of research capacity by networking researchers and partners across Canada.
  • Centres of Excellence for Commercialization & Research: The program funds world-class centres to advance research and facilitate commercialization of technologies, products and services. These centres operate in the priority areas of the S&T Strategy: information and communications technology, environment, energy and natural resources, and health.

The Collaborative Research and Development (CRD) program is intended to give companies operating from a Canadian base access to the special knowledge, expertise and educational resources at Canadian postsecondary institutions and to offer opportunities for mutually beneficial collaborations that result in industrial or economic benefits to Canada. The industrial partners also contribute financially to the university research projects. A comparison of NSERC funding to industry contributions for the CRD program is presented in Figure 2.12.

Figure 2.13

NSERC tracks the outcomes of its Collaborative Research and Development (CRD) program by following-up with researchers and partners. Results from the latest follow-ups are described below:

  • CRD reports required an overall ranking to assess the extent to which overall objectives of the program were achieved. The answers were rated on a scale of 1 to 7 where 1 meant “not at all”, the midpoint indicated “somewhat” and 7 indicated “to a great extent.” 74% of reports responded with scale 6 and 7 indicating that objectives and milestones were achieved to a large extent. There were no responses that indicated that objectives were “not met at all”.
  • Out of 276 reports, 49% of the projects reported contribution to new products or processes and 67% of projects reported contribution to improved products or processes.
  • There were 18 new licenses generated and 103 patents had been filed. Twenty-four of those had been reviewed at the time reports were received. Start-up companies were created for 13 projects.

The number of firms participating in the CRD program continues to grow and stood at 548 in 2008-09, a 23% increase over the past five years (see Figure 2.13). Hundreds of firms have been partners on several projects indicating a continued interest and sustained benefits derived from their collaboration with universities.

Figure 2.13

Some of the findings from a recent evaluation of the Networks of Centres of Excellence program (report is available at were:

  • While many of the positive outcomes of the NCE Program are shared with other network-related programs, it performs better than these programs in some key areas, such as the creation of structured networks, the establishment of intersectoral partnerships, and knowledge utilization — in particular, the commercialization of research findings. Clearly, there is an undisputed place for the NCE Program.
  • NCE networks have been successful at bringing together researchers, public sector and private sector representatives, and NGOs to contribute to the definition of key knowledge issues, the execution of research and the translation of research findings into actionable results.
  • Networking and collaboration programs double the amount of knowledge transfer activities and increase knowledge utilization significantly according to researchers.

Program Activity Support Commercialization

Description: This program activity supports innovation and promotes the transfer of knowledge and technology to Canadian companies.
Expected Result: The transfer of knowledge and technology residing in Canadian universities and colleges to the user sector is facilitated.
Indicator Results Performance Status
  • Trends in technology and knowledge transfer activity
  • University licensing revenues, spin-off company formation and patent activities have increased in the latest year (see Figure 2.14).
  • NSERC-related spin-off companies generate impressive economic contributions to Canada (see Figure 2.15).
  • Mostly Met – Most technology transfer metrics are increasing, although inventions and new licenses are down.


Financial Resources ($ millions)
Human Resources (Full-Time Equivalents)
Actual Spending Planned Actual Difference
14.0 14.4 15.6 4 10 +6

The key programs under this program activity are:

  • Intellectual Property Mobilization (IPM) Program: The objective of this program is to accelerate the transfer of knowledge and technology residing in Canadian universities and hospitals for the benefit of Canada. The IPM program provides funding in partnership with universities to support activities related to managing and transferring intellectual property resulting from publicly funded research performed at universities.
  • Idea to Innovation (I2I) Program: I2I accelerates the pre-competitive development of promising technologies and promotes its transfer to Canadian companies. The program supports R&D projects with recognized technology-transfer potential by providing crucial assistance to university researchers in the early stages of technology validation and market connection.

Statistics Canada currently conducts a survey of intellectual property (IP) commercialization in the university sector every year. The key results from the first six surveys are highlighted in Figure 2.18. The survey data are confidential and it is therefore impossible to link the outcomes in the figure below to NSERC funding. However, from NSERC’s analysis of patents and publications, it is highly likely that the majority would be attributable to NSERC funding (all NSERC funding and not just the programs under this program activity). The sizeable increases seen over the six-year period for most of the commercialization activities presented is a positive result.

Figure 2.14
Survey of University Intellectual Property Commercialization
Commercialization Activity 1999 2001 2003 2004 2005 2006
Inventions disclosed 829 1,105 1,133 1,432 1,452 1,356
Inventions protected 509 682 597 629 761 707
New patent applications 616 932 1,252 1,264 1,410 1,442
Patents issued 325 381 347 397 374 339
Total patents held 1,826 2,133 3,047 3,827 3,961 4,784
New licences 218 320 422 494 621 437
Total active licences 1,109 1,338 1,756 2,022 2,836 2,038
Royalties from licensing ($M) $18.9 $52.5 $55.5 $51.2 $55.2 $59.7
Total spin-off companies 454 680 876 968 1,027 1,103
Source: Statistics Canada            

By way of example of university spin-off companies, NSERC engages in a detailed biannual study to uncover firms that were created based on university research. The start-up companies uncovered have all been founded on results of research funded partially by NSERC. The 154 start-up companies featured in Figure 2.15 are currently in the business of producing goods and services for Canadian and international markets. Combined, these companies employ nearly 18,000 Canadians and generate $3.9 billion in annual sales/revenue.

Figure 2.15