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Engineering Research in the Context of the Research Funding Sources
- In the main, university research in Canada is funded by agencies which are external to the universities and which receive their funds from government sources. A majority of this funding is provided by the federal government, although there is an increasing involvement by some provincial governments. A small proportion of the funding comes from industry and from private agencies. In general, funds for education are provided from provincial governments and from student fees.
- The criteria employed by the major research funding agencies in making grants are similar to those of the university researchers that they fund. In an agency such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the majority of the recipients of research grants are in the basic sciences. Therefore, it is not surprising that there are pressures generally to adopt the research criteria of these basic disciplines. Among these pressures are:
- An emphasis on individual research excellence. This emphasis is highly appropriate for the basic sciences. However, it tends to discourage group and interdisciplinary research which might be more suitable for many engineering projects.
- An emphasis on good funding for research stars, combined with a policy of dropping funding from researchers who have not produced evidence of research results in the past two to three years. This policy appears to favour incremental projects to be reported in a series of short papers, a process which is effective in many basic disciplines. In engineering, a single major publication giving a comprehensive view of an integrated project would usually be of much more value to many users.
- The accepted reviewed paper as the primary measure of research productivity. This is usually a good criterion for the basic sciences and thus tends to be adopted for engineering disciplines as well. Generality in policy throughout an agency is simpler than differentiation.
- Documentation and publication of research results in the form of published papers is considered as an integral part of the research process funded by the public agencies. There is no similar incentive to produce reports on engineering projects funded by industry and to have these reports evaluated by a peer group.
- NSERC has made significant attempts to address many of the issues raised in this document. Its criteria for the evaluation of the applicants and their research proposals have been extended to include internal reports, patents and evidence of industrial interaction. Applicants have been encouraged to emphasize innovation and impact. However, these measures have had only a limited effect in changing the nature of engineering research in the universities. Engineering professors have frequently seen these changes as demands for still more documentation in their grant requests. There is still a lack of sufficient incentive to shift the emphasis toward research conducted in cooperation with industry. The professors still regard evidence of research paper production as the essential ingredient in a successful application.
- In an attempt to achieve generality of policy, the criterion of interaction with industry promoted by NSERC has been implied even in pure disciplines where it appears to be inappropriate. This circumstance, actual or perceived, has lead to the voicing of deep concerns by researchers in the basic sciences about the steering effect of such interaction. This concern has achieved much greater publicity than has the welcome that engineering researchers extend in principle to industrial interaction.
- The criteria of the universities and of the granting agencies have had a strong steering effect on both national and international engineering societies leading to a bias in many engineering journals toward science and away from comprehensive engineering criteria. Many of the editorial boards are dominated by engineering professors who have an interest in a ready avenue for publication, since this is a requirement of their success. Instead of a focus on providing the user with useful information from research results, the journals are too often seen as a means to publish contributions on which academic and research status and advancement depend.
Engineering Research in Canadian Universities - 15 JAN 97[Next] [Previous] [Top]