Covering the hidden costs of discovery

UAlberta to receive more than $16M from federal Research Support Program for indirect costs of research.

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta is home to some of the top researchers in the country. Now, the U of A is also one of the beneficiaries of a new program from the Government of Canada to help cover the indirect costs of their research.

The Research Support Program announced Jan. 19 by Ed Holder, minister of state for science and technology, will distribute $342 million to post-secondary institutions across Canada over the next year, including $16.5 million to the University of Alberta.

The hidden costs of research

Funding agencies are focused on providing support to the direct costs of research-items like equipment, researcher salaries and benefits, supplies and research-related travel, which are all clear expenses that are easy to quantify. It is more difficult to put a dollar value on some of the "hidden" costs that nonetheless must be covered. Facility maintenance, utilities, IT services, human resource support, library costs and safety compliance are all examples of ancillary costs that can add up. Recent studies show that for every funding dollar received, it costs another 59 cents to support the research enterprise.

Some of these hidden costs had been covered by the university's operating budget, but with the Research Support Fund, Canadian post-secondary institutions can ensure that their federally funded research projects are conducted in world-class facilities with the best equipment and administrative support available.

"In my work as an NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Energy and Environmental Engineering, the Research Support Fund is essential in maintaining our labs and equipment, providing administrative support, and in planning, co-ordination and setup of these multi-agency, collaborative research projects," said Amit Kumar of the Faculty of Engineering.

Research support reaches across campus

Kumar's lab is just one of many at the U of A where researchers' cutting-edge work will benefit from the Research Support Fund. Almost every aspect of the Faculty of Engineering's research involves some form of technical support from machine shops, instrumentation shops, specialized measurement facilities, networks or IT support. Well-maintained research facilities and equipment decidedly increase the quality and quantity of research undertaken.

Researchers from every faculty have benefited from this behind-the-scenes support. Nursing; pharmacy; arts; extension; science; agricultural, life and environmental sciences; rehabilitation medicine and the National Institute for Nanotechnology are on the list of beneficiaries from 2013-14 alone. Some funds also go to groups with a cross-cutting impact like the Research Ethics Office and Information Services and Technology (IST), which support all researchers on campus.

The Research Support Fund is also used by University of Alberta Libraries to acquire or renew licences for databases and electronic research journals that are vital resources for researchers.

"Research activities are at the heart of the University of Alberta's mission, but research activities require support," said Lorne Babiuk, U of A vice-president (research). "Support and investment like the Research Support Fund is essential to sustain world-class research at this university and Canada's other post-secondary research institutions and their affiliated hospitals, centres and institutes."

Read the Government of Canada release