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The federal government announced a major financial commitment to graduate students and scientific infrastructure in this week’s budget that university leaders say will help stem a brain drain and allow them to retain and attract talented young researchers.

But the plan pushes some of the new spending beyond the end of the government’s electoral mandate, leaving many of its details for the next government to decide to implement, or not. And it falls short of some of the recommendations made a year ago by the government-commissioned Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced in Tuesday’s budget that the government is allocating $825-million over five years to increase the annual values of federal scholarships for people in graduate programs.

Those scholarships will be $27,000 a year for master’s students, who under the existing scheme receive only $17,500; $40,000 a year for PhD students, some of whom currently receive as little as $20,000; and $70,000 for post-doctoral fellows, up from a minimum of $40,000. The government also said it would increase the number of federal scholarships and fellowships it issues.

The increases follow years of effort by research advocates to draw Ottawa’s attention to the plight of trainees and young researchers living off of federal stipends, which in some cases fall below the poverty line.

“This is the most significant investment in graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in 21 years,” said Kaitlin Kharas, a PhD candidate and executive director of the grassroots advocacy group Support Our Science.

The budget also commits an additional $1.8-billion over five years to the three bodies that fund the lion’s share of academic research across the country: the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Baljit Singh, vice-president of research at the University of Saskatchewan, called the new spending a major step forward for the postsecondary sector and for Canada’s international standing.

“There has been a growing concern that Canada has been losing ground when it comes to investing in research and innovation, especially in our university system compared to other countries,” Dr. Singh said. “This is a major signal not only to Canadian researchers, but to other global economies.”

But while the funding represents an increase for the granting councils, more than three quarters of it will not be paid out until after the next federal election, expected by October, 2025, by which time a new government could be in place with different priorities.

And according to an analysis by Universities Canada, the increase only goes about halfway toward meeting the recommendation of the federal research advisory panel, which was led by Frederic Bouchard, dean of arts and sciences at the University of Montreal. The panel’s report, issued last year, called for a series of increases to the granting councils that, when compounded, would amount to about a 60-per-cent boost after five years. The amounts allocated in this week’s budget add up to a nearly 30-per-cent increase in that time.

University of Toronto president Meric Gertler said that although the budget did not meet all of the panel’s recommendations, it addressed the key issues the report raised.

“They didn’t quite match the rate of increase in funding proposed by Bouchard, but they certainly moved the needle in the right direction on pretty much every dimension that Bouchard touched on,” Dr. Gertler said.

In another nod to the Bouchard report, the new federal budget calls for the creation of a “capstone” research funding organization within which the existing granting councils would reside. Its role would include facilitating multidisciplinary research and international collaborations, areas where Canadian scientists face hurdles because of misaligned funding cycles and the lack of a co-ordinated national research strategy.

How the separate granting councils will operate within the new oversight body is unclear, and should be considered carefully, said David Naylor, a former University of Toronto president who led a landmark 2017 review of federal support for research.

“Managing this transition has got lots of wrinkles, even though it’s overdue,” Dr. Naylor said.

Finance Department officials said further details about the mandate and makeup of the new body would be revealed in the government’s Fall Economic Statement. The same timeline applies to another research-oriented body named in the budget: a new national advisory council on science and innovation, to be made up of academic and industry leaders, among others. The budget says the group’s purpose will be to lead the development of a national science and innovation strategy.

The budget also allocated new funding to some of the country’s largest research facilities, including nearly $400-million for the TRIUMF subatomic physics research lab in Vancouver, and $83.5-million for the Canadian Light Source, a particle accelerator at the University of Saskatchewan that is used in advanced physics research.

But the budget did not address what many research leaders say is an urgent need for more predictable support and long-range planning for these and other major facilities across their entire life cycles.

It’s possible that this role could be taken up by the new advisory council, said Janet Halliwell, board chair of the Canadian Science Policy Centre. But if this is to be done, she added, the council needs be set up and get to work soon.

“I just hope that this does not mean yet another few years of indecision and uncertainty for all these major research facilities,” she said.

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