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A parliamentary committee is calling on the federal government to boost scholarship and grant funding for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, which in some cases hasn’t increased in two decades.

The standing committee on science and research, made up of MPs from four parties and chaired by Liberal Lloyd Longfield, issued six recommendations in a report published Tuesday. It calls on Ottawa to increase the amount of money available through the three federal granting agencies: the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

The committee report recommends a 50-per-cent increase to the value of tri-agency graduate research scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships, and says they should be indexed to inflation. It also calls for a doubling of the number of postdoctoral fellowships and a 50-per-cent increase to the number of graduate scholarships.

The size of the tri-agency grants awarded to university faculty should increase by at least 10 per cent a year over five years, the committee said, to allow for increased pay for graduate student researchers. The vast majority of grad students, according to testimony heard by the committee, are funded through grants awarded to university faculty.

Kaitlin Kharas, a PhD student at the University of Toronto and executive director of Support Our Science, said the advocacy group was pleased with the report and looks forward to the government response.

“The funding to these researchers has remained largely unchanged for 20 years despite the fact they are working on some of the most important problems affecting Canadians,” she said. “Their innovation is critical to Canada’s current and future prosperity.”

Many of the graduate scholarships awarded by the federal government have not budged in years, and in several instances not since 2003. The value of those awards has diminished by nearly 50 per cent as a result of inflation.

When compared with levels of graduate student funding available in other countries, the committee heard testimony that Canada was becoming less competitive, raising the risk that the country could suffer a brain drain.

The committee also heard that graduate students and postdocs are crucial to the research ecosystem because they are the ones doing the majority of the hands-on work at the research bench or in the field. More than two-thirds of graduate students live below the poverty line, creating issues with finding affordable housing and leading some to turn to food banks, MPs heard.

The need for financial support from family could have the effect of excluding potential scholars from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds, the report says. It recommends reviewing the criteria for awarding graduate scholarships and consider specific supports for graduate researchers from underrepresented groups.

The report was published just weeks after eight of the 12 members of the committee took the unusual step of writing to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to request, ultimately unsuccessfully, that many of these same measures be implemented in the fall economic statement.

In a dissenting report, the Conservatives said it disagrees with the recommendations that call for “unfunded spending.” They said “reckless spending leads to runaway inflation which leads to life becoming increasingly unaffordable.”

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