Thirty million dollahs can buy a lotta research

By Wendy Maloff

The University of Calgary is a researcher’s dream come true, thanks to a $29.3 million boost to the coffers.

The research funds were awarded to the university by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, a fund created by the Canadian Federal government in 1998. Since that time, the CFI has donated $1.5 billion to promoting research across the country. To obtain the funds, U of C applicants complete an in-depth research proposal and are subject to review.

"The whole process takes a year to a year and a half, a lot of work goes into the applications," explained Dr. Pam Sokol, U of C Associate Vice-President of Research. "It reflects the strength of our scientists and faculty members and the effort that they’ve put in to applying for these projects. The good success rate that we’ve had this year reflects on the quality work by all of them."

The money will be used for research infrastructure and will directly benefit the Calgary Centre for Innovative Technology, currently under construction on the west side of the Engineering complex. The funds will also be allocated to the proposed Health Research Innovation Centre, to be located near the Foothills hospital.

Direct beneficiaries of the money and the new facilities include the Faculties of Medicine, Engineering and Kinesiology.

"There were 11 projects funded specifically at the U of C and then there were three other projects that are collabrative projects with the University of Alberta," explained Sokol.

The projects incorporate a wide range of topics and several different areas of research. Sokol stressed that the Calgary community and the province will also benefit from the research.

"The way the HRC is set up is there’s transitional research where research gets developed in the laboratory and then you can take it to clinical trial then to patient therapy," explained Sokol. "It’s all set up to facilitate the transition from basic research to actual clinical practice. Having that done in Calgary can actually speed up the transfer of that technology into the health care system in Alberta."

While the benefits of the funds may be many and widespread, there are concerns undergraduates will not share those benefits.

"In general I would say the funding for undergraduate students doing research is very minimal," said U of C Students’ Union VP Academic Nic Porco. Maybe the federal government should consider the other parts of a university that are not research. There’s no classroom space in CCIT, no real teaching space. Undergraduate students have been kept out of funding."

Porco explained that undergraduate students will have access to the professors who use the facilites but not necessarily the building and research facilities themselves.

"I think that the government perhaps has a short-sighted view of how an undergraduate could become involved in research and at the same time the government is not terribly good at funding things like classrooms and general academic buildings," he said. "This brings you into a political debate that the province is responsible for education but the federal government is responsible for research. So who is responsible for a university that is supposed to do both?"