Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Good Example from Canada

I recently became aware of the Canada Research Chairs programme. That programme has been running since the year 2000, and aims at establishing 2000 research professorships—the so-called Canada Research Chairs—in universities across Canada by 2008. The Canada Research Chairs programme invests $300 million a year to attract and retain some of the world's most accomplished and promising minds.

I encourage the readers of this blog to have a look at the web site for the programme. There is a lot of interesting material there, and I cannot help but think that many countries would be well served by setting up a similar programme to attract the best possible scientists in all disciplines. Now, this is something well worth lobbying for in the coming year, isn't it?

If you do not have time to look at the web site I linked to above, here is my executive summary of the programme.

  • Each eligible degree-granting institution in Canada receives an allocation of Chairs. For each Chair, a university nominates a researcher whose work complements its strategic research plan and who meets the program's high standards.

    Three members of a college of reviewers, composed of experts from around the world, assess each nomination and recommend whether to support it.

  • Universities are allocated Chairs in proportion to the amount of research grant funding they have received from the three federal granting agencies: NSERC, CIHR, and SSHRC in the three years prior to the year of the allocation.

  • There are two types of Canada Research Chair:

    Tier 1 Chairs, tenable for seven years and renewable, are for outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields. For each Tier 1 Chair, the university receives $200,000 annually for seven years.

    Tier 2 Chairs, tenable for five years and renewable once, are for exceptional emerging researchers, acknowledged by their peers as having the potential to lead in their field. For each Tier 2 Chair, the university receives $100,000 annually for five years.

  • As you can see, there is a strong financial incentive to attract people to these endowed chairs!
  • Chairholders are also eligible for infrastructure support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to help acquire state-of-the-art equipment essential to their work.

  • If an institution's performance decreases relative to other institutions to the extent that the next recalculation of Chair allocations results in that institution's allocation being reduced, the Chairs Secretariat will reclaim, as appropriate, one or more of its unoccupied Chairs. Should all of the institution's Chairs be occupied, the secretariat will negotiate with the university on how best to reclaim the lost Chair(s).

Of course, the success of a programme like this one should be measured by the quality of the people who take up the chairs. (Italy has a similar programme already in place. You can read about it in a short article in Nature, with commentaries in the blog posts "The Runaway Brains" and "Brain Drain and Brain Gain".) You can look up the chairholders in all disciplines here. A quick browse through the names of the Canada Research chairholders in Information Technology and Mathematics makes me pretty sure that you'll find outstanding people in your area of interest.

Wouldn't it be great if we could convince our own ministries for education, university and research to set up a Research Chairs programme along the Canadian lines? Let's see what the new year will bring, but I do not hold my breath. I am already doing so waiting for the result of the pending research grant applications .

I wish a happy and productive 2008 to all readers of this blog.

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