Research VP sees room to improve

By Paul Mayne
April 17, 2014

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While Research Western has seen modest growth in its total research funding, there are still hurdles to overcome in order to rise in the ranks of top research-intensive universities, John Capone, vice-president (research), told university Senate Friday.

Western’s research funding hit nearly $240 million for 2012-13 – up more than 4 per cent from the previous year. While positive, Capone said, there is always a need to grow.

“There is a lot of promise and potential in what we see here, but there are also deficiencies we also need to address in what is a very integrated and interactive environment,” he continued.

Western currently sits fourth provincially and 10th nationally in research funding. In order to reach the university’s goal of second provincially, and sixth nationally, Capone said it would require a 35 per cent increase in total funding.

Western’s funding source pie is divided into three slices, with 45 per cent of funding coming from federal sources, 12 per cent from provincial and 43 per cent from other sources (corporation funding, contract research, clinical trials, technology transfer, etc.).

Of the federal sources, Capone said Tri-Council funding, or 27 per cent of Western’s total, is the “gold standard for research funding.” The Tri-Council includes Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (NSERC) and Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

While stagnant over the last couple of years, Tri-Council funding sits at just over $50 million, with Capone looking to boost Western’s national share to 4.5 per cent. An increase of just 0.5 per cent would mean an additional 10 Canada Research Chairs, “so the national share becomes important, not only in the dollar amounts,” Capone added.

Western’s $21 million in NSERC funding is up 12 per cent over the previous year. That number is closing in on the university’s CIHR funding of $24 million, which seems odd to Capone.

“Typically, in most other places, CIHR funding is about twice as much as NSERC funding,” he said. “So, either NSERC is doing really well here, or CIHR is not doing as great as we want it to.”

SSHRC funding at Western is $4.9 million, up 5.4 per cent from the previous year.

Western’s corporate funding was up 22.8 per cent to $15.1 million. Contract research sits at $16 million and technology transfers at $5.4 million from licensing income. Clinical trials funding has grown by 172 per cent to $15.6 million over five years as the economy has recovered.

When it comes to grant-holders per faculty (meaning the percentage of faculty members holding funding from any external source), Capone sees a broad range, from 100 per cent in Engineering to 5.6 per cent in the Don Wright Faculty of Music.

“For one benchmark, to be known as a research-intensive university, 50 per cent seems to be, to me, a minimum level,” he said. “If you want to be at the top end of research-intensive universities, you’re probably looking at closer to 75 to 80 per cent.”

Currently, five faculties (Engineering, Health Sciences, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Science and Social Science) are above the 50 per cent threshold.

As a whole, Western has 64 per cent of its faculty members with external funding. Capone says Western’s target of 75 per cent would require an additional 92 faculty members to obtain funding, which he said is doable. 

Capone’s biggest concerns, however, are research publications and citations. Based on Leiden Rankings, Western ranks sixth in the U15 (Canada’s top research universities) for total publications, however that drops to 12th when it comes to citation score.

“The good news is we publish a lot of papers. The not-so-great news is the quality, at least by the criteria of this organization, is not at the top end,” said Capone, adding Western drops to 14th in collaboration internationally.

“These are areas of concern and the first step we need to understand is why. Why are our papers not cited?” he said. “We do want to have an international presence; we do want to collaborate across the globe. So, why is it we don’t do that as frequently as our competitors? Why are the papers we are putting out not as highly cited?

“It’s something we should be wondering about.”

Moving forward, Western is making a substantial investment when it comes to interdisciplinary research, with the creation of the Clusters of Research Excellence, Capone said. The first, Cognitive Neuroscience, has been established and a research chair has been hired. New clusters are expected to be identified over the next few months.

He added Western will also continue a strong focus on increasing its share of Tri-Council funding, recruiting and retaining senior faculty in support of research excellence, increasing the number of national and international faculty awards, and partnering with other institutions and communities.


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