Section I – Overview of the Agency

Minister’s Message

Jim PrenticeThe Government of Canada is committed to creating an environment where all Canadians have every opportunity for continued prosperity.

We laid out our long-term economic plan in Advantage Canada. It identified five Canadian objectives, related to tax reduction, debt reduction, entrepreneurship, knowledge in the workforce and infrastructure, which will help us improve our quality of life and succeed on the world stage. I’m pleased to note the commonality between these advantages and Industry Canada’s mission of fostering a growing, competitive, knowledge-based economy.

Clearly, our government is making strides towards achieving our long-term goals. For example, we have provided $190 billion in broad-based tax relief over this and the next five years, including cuts to corporate, small business and personal taxes. Our debt repayment goals have been accelerated by three years. We’re setting the right conditions for entrepreneurs to thrive, for research and development to flourish, for additional competition and growth in the wireless sector and for our workforce to build on its expertise. Finally, we continue to invest heavily in our physical infrastructure to build the networks needed to carry our people, goods and services across Canada and beyond.

In May 2007 Prime Minister Harper unveiled our Science and Technology Strategy, Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage. It is a policy framework that has received wide acclaim, both in Canada and internationally. Our government believes that science and technology, and research and development, are more critical than ever to pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge and transforming that knowledge into new products, services and technologies.

Our hard work is paying off. The economic fundamentals are in place to help us realize our goals. We boast strong public finances, an economy that is as healthy as it has been for a generation and low unemployment.

As Minister of Industry, I look forward to implementing our government’s agenda for providing effective economic leadership – an agenda that provides concrete, realistic solutions to the economic challenges our country is facing.

As always, we must build on our success as a nation. In this regard, Industry Canada and its portfolio partners continue to strive towards a fair, efficient and competitive marketplace, an innovative economy, competitive industries and sustainable communities – in short, outcomes that will help Canadians continue to enjoy a quality of life that is second to none.

It gives me great pleasure to present the annual Report on Plans and Priorities for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, outlining in greater detail the agency’s main initiatives, priorities and expected outcomes for the upcoming year.

Jim Prentice
Minister of Industry

Management Representation Statement

I submit for tabling in Parliament, the 2008-2009 Report on Plans and Priorities (RPP) for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

This document has been prepared based on the reporting principles contained in the Guide for the Preparation of Part III of the 2008–09 Estimates: Reports on Plans and Priorities and Departmental Performance Reports:

Suzanne Fortier
President, NSERC

Raison d’être

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) works to make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators for the benefit of all Canadians. NSERC aims to maximize the value of public investments in R&D and to advance prosperity and quality of life in Canada by supporting the creation and transfer of knowledge in the natural sciences and engineering (NSE) and by ensuring that people are trained to discover, develop and use that knowledge.

Organizational Information


NSERC Quick Facts: 2008-09

President: Dr. Suzanne Fortier
Budget: $999 million
Offices:

  • Head Office: Ottawa, ON
  • Regional Offices*:
    • Moncton, NB
    • Winnipeg, MB
    • Vancouver, BC
    • Montreal, QC

Employees: 349 Full-time Equivalents
Reach:

  • 25,000 students and postdoctoral fellows
  • 11,500 university professors
  • 1,400 Canadian partner companies
  • over 100 universities and colleges

*NSERC plans to open a fifth regional office in Ontario.


NSERC is a departmental corporation of the Government of Canada and is the primary federal agency investing in post-secondary research and training in the NSE. It is funded directly by Parliament and reports to it through the Minister of Industry. NSERC’s Council is composed of the President and 21 other distinguished members selected from the private and public sectors, and post-secondary institutions. Members serve part-time and receive no remuneration for their participation. The Council is advised on policy matters by various standing committees. The President of NSERC is the Chief Executive Officer. Funding decisions are approved by the President on the basis of recommendations made by numerous peer review selection committees and panels.

In 2008-09, NSERC will invest nearly $1 billion in post-secondary research and training in the NSE. NSERC’s budget represents 10 per cent of the federal government’s expenditures on science and technology, and 16 per cent of all university research and development (R&D) funding in the NSE.

Mandate

The functions of NSERC, based on the authority and responsibility assigned to it under the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Act (1976-77, c.24), are to:

NSERC’s Organizational and Governance Structure

NSERC's Organizational and Governance Structure

Program Activity Architecture Crosswalk

Modifications to NSERC’s Program Activity Architecture (PAA) were approved by Treasury Board in May 2007. Changes to the PAA were made to ensure programs’ classification reflect their primary objective, as well as to harmonize the PAA with recent program changes and evolution. The updated PAA is consistent with the way NSERC manages its programs and related activities and allocates resources to achieve expected results.

Summary of changes:

  1. PA 2.1 (Fund Basic Research) has been divided into two PAs. A new PA has been created, namely PA 2.2 (Support for Research Equipment and Major Resources), under the Discovery Strategic Outcome. The programs listed at the sub-activity level, formerly under “Fund Basic Research,” can be grouped into two activities: programs that support research as such (PA 2.1) and programs that support the equipment and major resources necessary to do research or to build capacity for research (new PA 2.2).
  2. Program Activity 2.2 (Fund Research in Strategic Areas) was moved from Strategic Outcome (SO) 2.0 to SO 3.0. This Program Activity (PA) will now appear as PA 3.1 (Fund Research in Strategic Areas). This amendment better represents the expected results of this PA, which are: “Research and training in targeted and emerging areas of national importance is accelerated.” These results link best with SO 3.0 “Innovation: Productive use of new knowledge in the natural sciences and engineering,” which involves alignment of research to national and industrial needs, as well as research partnerships involving industry, government and universities.

Table 1. Redistribution of financial resources following modification of PAA


($ millions)
New Program Activity 2008-09
PA 2.1
Fund Basic Research
PA 2.2
Support for Research Equipment and Major Resources
PA 3.1
Fund Research in Strategic Areas
Total
Old Program Activity PA 2.1
Fund Basic Research
379.4
41.5
N/A
420.9
PA 2.2
Fund Research in Strategic Areas
N/A
N/A
104.5
104.5

Voted and Statutory Items Displayed in the Main Estimates

Table 2. Voted and Statutory Items Displayed in the Main Estimates ($ millions)


Vote or Statutory Item
Truncated Vote or Statutory Wording
2008-09
Main Estimates
2007-08
Main Estimates
70
Operating expenditures
40.7
36.5
75
Grants
913.4
858.9
(S)
Contributions to employee benefit plans
4.1
4.1
 
Total for Agency
958.2
899.6
Note: Totals may not add due to rounding

Planned Spending and Full-time Equivalents

Table 3. Planned Spending and Full-time Equivalents


($ millions)
Forecast
Spending
2007–08
Planned
Spending
2008–09
Planned
Spending
2009–10
Planned
Spending
2010–11
Program Activity:
1.1 – Promote Science and Engineering
4.1
6.3
6.3
6.3
1.2 – Support Students and Fellows
136.4
146.2
146.7
146.7
1.3 – Attract and Retain Faculty
167.8
167.7
167.7
167.7
2.1 – Fund Basic Research
403.4
379.4
379.0
376.6
2.2 – Support for Research Equipment and Major Resources
N/A1
41.5
29.7
29.7
3.1 – Fund Research in Strategic Areas
57.7
104.5
103.3
102.5
3.2 – Fund University-Industry-Government Partnerships
115.0
101.1
101.2
101.2
3.3 – Support Commercialization
15.2
11.5
11.5
11.5
Total Main Estimates
899.6
958.2
945.4
942.2


Adjustments
Supplementary Estimates:
- Budget 2007―NSERC
37.0
 
 
 
- Budget 2007―Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarships
6.0
 
 
 
- Budget 2007―College and Community Innovation  
2.5
15.0
15.0
- Budget 2007―Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research
58.0
24.4
27.5
28.5
- Budget 2007―Business-led Networks of Centres of Excellence
0.4
9.7
10.1
11.1
- Budget 2007―Industrial R&D Internship Program
0.1
4.3
4.4
5.9
- International Polar Year Funds
12.0
 
 
 
- Federal Accountability Act Funds
0.3
 
 
 
- Transfer from Health Canada for the International Polar Year
0.1
 
 
 
- Transfer to Department of National Defence for Canada Research Chairs at Royal Military College (RMC)
(0.4)
 
 
 
Other:
- Compensation for Salary Adjustments
0.1
 
 
 
- Treasury Board Policy on Internal Audit Funds
0.2
 
 
 
- Operating Carry-forward from 2006-07
1.8
 
 
 
Total Adjustments
115.6
40.9
57.0
60.5
Total Planned Spending
1,015.2
999.1
1,002.4
1,002.7
Less: Non-respendable revenue
(1.3)
(1.3)
(1.3)
(1.3)
Plus: Cost of services received without charge
5.7
5.7
5.7
5.7
Total Agency Spending
1,019.6
1,003.5
1,006.8
1,007.1
Full-time Equivalents
336
349
349
349
1 See Program Activity Architecture Crosswalk.

NSERC’s administration costs are approximately five per cent of its total budget, which is low compared to similar agencies in Canada and around the world. NSERC is able to maintain this low level of overhead expenses by extensively using volunteer committee members and reviewers, obtaining agreement from Canadian universities that receive NSERC funds to participate in their administration, and sharing the costs of common administrative services through a successful partnership with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Summary Information

Table 4. Financial Resources ($ millions) and Human Resources


2008–09
2009–10
2010–11
$999.1
$1,002.4
$1,002.7
349
349
349

Table 5. Agency Priorities


Name

Type
1. Foster a People Advantage
Ongoing
2. Foster a Knowledge Advantage
Ongoing
3. Foster an Entrepreneurial Advantage
Ongoing
4. Enhance performance measurement, accountability and value for money
New

5. Increase the visibility of Canadian NSE research

New

Table 6. Program Activities by Strategic Outcome


 
Expected Results
Planned Spending2
($ millions)
Supports priority #
2008–09 2009–10 2010–11
Strategic Outcome #1 – People:
Highly skilled science and engineering professionals in Canada
1.1 Promote Science and Engineering Student interest in research in the sciences, math and engineering is encouraged.
6.3
6.3
6.3
1, 5
1.2 Support Students and Fellows A supply of highly qualified people with leading-edge scientific and research skills for Canadian industry, government and universities.
146.2
146.7
146.7
1
1.3 Attract and Retain Faculty Enhanced research capacity in science and engineering.
167.7
167.7
167.7
1, 2, 3
Strategic Outcome #2 – Discovery:
High quality Canadian-based competitive research in the natural sciences and engineering
2.1 Fund Basic Research The discovery, innovation and training capability of university researchers in the natural sciences and engineering (NSE) is enhanced.
379.4
379.0
376.6
1, 2, 3
2.2 Support for Research Equipment and Major Resources The discovery, innovation and training capability of university researchers in the NSE is supported by the access to research equipment and major regional or national research facilities.
41.5
29.7
29.7
1, 2, 3
Strategic Outcome #3 – Innovation:
Productive use of new knowledge in the natural sciences and engineering
3.1 Fund Research in Strategic Areas Research and training in targeted and emerging areas of national importance is accelerated.
104.5
103.3
102.5
1, 2, 3
3.2 Fund University-Industry-Government Partnerships Mutually beneficial collaborations between the private sector and researchers in universities, resulting in industrial or economic benefits to Canada.
139.5
143.2
146.7
1, 3
3.3 Support Commercialization The transfer of knowledge and technology residing in Canadian universities and colleges to the user sector is facilitated.
14.0
26.5
26.5
3
TOTAL  
999.1
1,002.4
1,002.7
 


2 Includes costs for administration of NSERC programs totalling $44.8 million in 2008-09.

Plans and Priorities

The Research and Innovation Environment

All aspects of modern Canadian social and economic life and society are affected by advances in the natural sciences and engineering (NSE). Research, training and innovation are the foundation on which to build national prosperity, adding value to goods and services as well as producing the highly qualified people that are able to conduct research, generate new knowledge, access knowledge created elsewhere, and adopt and adapt new technologies for industry.

In the global, knowledge-based economy, Canada faces growing competition from both established and emerging economies with excellent educational systems and large, skilled workforces. Research activities are expanding rapidly in emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil. Beyond our traditional competitors among the G8, smaller economies such as Finland, Denmark, Israel and Sweden have surpassed Canada in research intensity.3 These smaller economies are largely knowledge-based and focused on maintaining global leadership in key economic sectors.

Canada ranks at or near the top among member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in terms of the proportion of investment in R&D spent in the higher education sector, including the proportion that is provided to this sector by business. These trends reflect the importance of a strong academic sector to the country; without it, our companies would lose a critical supply of knowledge and skilled workers.

Talented science and engineering graduates represent the most important mode of transfer of scientific and technical knowledge from academia to the user sector. However, a relatively small percentage of Canadian university students are enrolled in the NSE, and fewer young Canadians hold PhDs, compared to the OECD average. The growing needs of the labour market for scientists and engineers require sustained investments in scientific and technical training.

These realities are reflected in the new Federal Science and Technology (S&T) Strategy, Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage. Through the S&T Strategy, the federal government has committed to maintaining Canada’s G-7 leadership in public sector R&D performance. The Strategy builds on existing strengths, focusing efforts in areas where Canada can achieve global excellence, to make a real impact on the lives of Canadians and in the marketplace.

Since the S&T Strategy was released in May 2007, NSERC has embraced its vision and worked proactively to carry out its agenda. NSERC is working closely with the other federal funding agencies on projects and initiatives that address 18 of the 35 policy commitments in the S&T Strategy. NSERC’s focus on people, discovery and innovation maps directly onto the strategy’s emphasis of building a People Advantage, a Knowledge Advantage and an Entrepreneurial Advantage. In broad terms, virtually all of NSERC’s funding relates to these advantages.

The strategy’s principles have been incorporated into NSERC’s planning and decision-making functions. These principles are also solidly embedded in NSERC’s way of doing business, which includes: a competitive, peer reviewed evaluation system to ensure world class levels of excellence and value for money; a blend of targeted and broad-based programs to ensure that priority research topics are addressed as well as a broad spectrum of science, from discovery to applied research and commercialization; a suite of collaborative research programs that foster partnerships between industry and post-secondary institutions and that encourage commercialization; and appropriate and effective controls that are proven and recognized to ensure accountability4.

Canada’s research landscape has changed substantially over the past decade. Public investment in higher-education R&D has increased dramatically over this period. In many areas of research, Canada is truly a world-class player, as demonstrated by its increased ability to attract and retain top talent. The national science and innovation system offers Canadian researchers the tools they need to be knowledge trailblazers, seize opportunities to innovate and address global challenges such as adaptation to climate change and sustainable energy. NSERC is committed to advancing the goals of the S&T Strategy and to helping the research community make the most of the opportunities it offers them.

NSERC’s senior management has identified the following priorities for the three-year planning period (2008-2009 to 2010-2011):

Program priorities

  1. Foster a People Advantage
  2. Foster a Knowledge Advantage
  3. Foster an Entrepreneurial Advantage

    Management priorities

  4. Enhance performance measurement, accountability and value for money
  5. Increase the visibility of Canadian NSE research

It is important to note that all of NSERC’s priorities and planned initiatives are being carried out in a context of increasing cooperation and collaboration among all the major federal research funding agencies, including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). Examples of inter-agency alignment and harmonization are found throughout this document. The Presidents of the four agencies meet regularly to discuss strategic opportunities and challenges and staff members at various levels of the organizations have opened fruitful channels of communications leading to cooperative policies and programming.


3OECD, Main Science and Technology Indicators, October 2007.
4 In its report, the Blue Ribbon Panel on Grants and Contributions stated, “The record of performance by the federal research granting agencies, including CFI, has been deemed to be high by international standards. The two councils and CIHR have successfully managed their own research portfolios, using a rigorous system of oversight, including a detailed memorandum of understanding signed by all recipient institutions and regular financial monitoring visits of recipient universities.”

Priority 1: Foster a People Advantage

The S&T Strategy challenges us to create the right conditions to attract, retain and develop the talent and ingenuity Canada needs to compete in the worldwide knowledge economy. Science and engineering graduates represent the most important mode of transfer of scientific and technical knowledge from academia to the user sector.

Talented people, including research trainees, new investigators and emerging leaders, and established researchers with high-profile international reputations, are NSERC’s most important output. Through research and research training, NSERC fosters the development of skilled workers who will become leaders across the private and public sectors.

Stimulating young Canadians’ interest in science and engineering is critical to helping develop tomorrow’s discoverers and innovators. NSERC’s contributions in science promotion are primarily achieved through the encouragement and support, through competitive grants, of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other organizations that are dedicated to stimulating young people’s interest and improving school performance in science and mathematics. Also vital is the support NSERC provides to students, from the undergraduate to the postdoctoral levels, to encourage them to consider and pursue studies and careers in the NSE and develop not only skills in their area of expertise but also the professional skills that will make them effective in the marketplace.

NSERC’s plans and actions under Priority 1 will contribute to fostering a People Advantage for Canada and will directly support the agency’s Strategic Objective 1.0: “Highly skilled science and engineering professionals in Canada”. In 2008-09 and beyond, NSERC will focus its efforts in the following areas:

Priority 2: Foster a Knowledge Advantage

NSERC is committed to creating a strong foundation for research and research training in Canada. This is embodied in NSERC’s Discovery Grants Program, which provides a base from which researchers can establish and build their research programs, and gives them the opportunity to unleash their creative power. This program is also the foundation for training the next generation: virtually every science and engineering student trained in Canada learns from NSERC-funded professors.

Science and discovery have no boundaries. Increasingly, researchers, both as individuals and teams, need to forge partnerships locally, internationally, and across disciplines and sectors to be at the leading edge of knowledge in their areas of inquiry.

Canada must position itself within this environment, to be able to generate the important developments that lead to environmental, societal, health, and economic benefits. The S&T Strategy calls on the federal funding agencies to coordinate efforts in priority areas of Canadian R&D strength and opportunity, where Canada can build global research and commercial leadership. These include environmental science and technologies; natural resources and energy; health and related life sciences and technologies; and information and communications technologies. An estimated 57 per cent of NSERC’s funding is currently allocated to these four priority areas. This proportion is expected to increase given the efforts NSERC is making to mobilize the research community to address significant opportunities and challenges in these strategic areas.

NSERC’s plans and actions under Priority 2 will contribute to fostering a Knowledge Advantage for Canada and will directly support the agency’s Strategic Outcome 2.0: “High quality Canadian-based competitive research in the natural sciences and engineering”. In 2008-09 and beyond, NSERC will focus its efforts in the following areas:

In 2008-09 and beyond, NSERC will continue to implement and build on these recent initiatives, exploring ways to further focus resources in the priority areas. For example, NSERC’s Special Research Opportunities (SRO) program can be used to launch calls for proposals in specific areas of importance to Canada.

Priority 3: Foster an Entrepreneurial Advantage

Canada’s future prosperity depends upon our ability to be strong performers in innovation, creating products and processes that are attractive in world markets. To do this, Canada must establish research and business leadership in key areas. This leadership is built on, and contributes to, the strength of the research base. NSERC will continue to work to increase the impact of research and training on Canadian industry’s competitiveness and to accelerate the translation of research results into commercially successful innovations.

The S&T Strategy recognizes that partnerships between universities and industry can bring research strengths to bear on market-driven challenges and opportunities. The Strategy’s Entrepreneurial Advantage focuses on supporting productivity growth through science and technology by putting in place the conditions that encourage private sector investment and innovation. NSERC and the other research granting agencies are responding to this challenge by introducing new ways to promote knowledge and technology transfer between post-secondary institutions and the private and public sectors through partnerships. The agencies are also working to increase the effectiveness of existing mechanisms for commercialization and contributing to a better understanding of the innovation system itself.

NSERC’s plans and actions under this priority will contribute to fostering an Entrepreneurial Advantage for Canada and will directly support the agency’s Strategic Objective 3.0: “Productive use of new knowledge in the natural sciences and engineering in Canada”. In 2008-09 and beyond, NSERC will focus its efforts in the following areas:

Priority 4: Enhance Performance Measurement, Accountability and Value for Money

The S&T Strategy includes several explicit commitments related to the granting agencies’ governance, value for money and performance reporting. NSERC is working closely with SSHRC, CIHR, CFI and Industry Canada to coordinate and align programs, policies and processes. Over the last few years, NSERC has added capacity and is making concrete advances in the areas of evaluation, impact analysis and reporting.

NSERC’s management practices were reviewed in 2006-07 by both the Independent Blue Ribbon Panel on Grant and Contribution Programs and the government-wide Management Accountability Framework (MAF) assessment. In both cases, observations were generally positive and recognized the agency’s strengths in financial management and control, and in responding to citizen and client needs and expectations. NSERC is taking steps to address those areas identified for improvement in the MAF assessment, including aspects related to performance measurement, public reporting documents, risk management, and the internal audit function.

In 2008-09, NSERC will place a strong emphasis on measuring and demonstrating results to Canadians, and will continue to assure high standards of accountability and client service, by focusing its efforts in the following areas:

NSERC will revamp the suite of communications products used to report results and impacts to various stakeholders and the public. A reporting structure is being developed based on a set of products and modules devoted to People, Discovery and Innovation. Several modules will be produced in 2008-09.

Priority 5: Increase the Visibility of Canadian NSE Research

The accomplishments of outstanding Canadian researchers, institutions and students are a cause for celebration. NSERC has numerous vehicles to call attention to the excellence of Canadian research and researchers, working through the media, with other agencies and in extensive outreach endeavours. NSERC has established several prestigious national prizes to recognize outstanding Canadian researchers, research teams and students. These prizes enhance the career development of highly promising scientists and engineers and celebrate the sustained excellence of Canadian research. They publicly recognize successful R&D collaborations between industry and post-secondary institutions, and celebrate young Canadian entrepreneurs.

NSERC is working to increase the visibility of these prizes and more generally of Canadian scientists and discoveries, both nationally and internationally. NSERC’s prizes, communications and outreach activities aim to stimulate Canadians’ interest in science and engineering, to inspire youth to pursue studies and careers in NSE, and to help make Canada a destination of choice for talent from around the world.

In 2008-09 and beyond, NSERC will focus its efforts in the following areas:

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