From the President’s Desk: The University of Alberta and Bill 18

Reaffirming our commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom at the U of A.

The University of Alberta Main Quad, on May 1, 2020

On April 10, 2024, the Government of Alberta introduced Bill 18, The Provincial Priorities Act, 2024. We understand that Bill 18 is primarily aimed at contesting what the province views as federal overreach in matters such as housing and municipal zoning regulations. It is not our role to take any position on this debate. However, Bill 18's application goes beyond municipalities and specifically applies to post-secondary institutions. 

Subject to any possible exemptions under the regulations, Bill 18 will require post-secondary institutions to obtain prior approval from the Government of Alberta before entering into, amending, extending or renewing an agreement with the federal government, including federal research funding agreements. 

Freedom of Expression

At the University of Alberta, we are committed to robust debate and a robust research agenda. Our commitment is demonstrated in the University of Alberta’s 2019 Statement on Freedom of Expression:

Freedom of expression … has been central to the university since its founding. Learning requires exposure to a variety of views, including those with which one disagrees, and the ability to participate in intellectual debate – including having one’s own views challenged. Research and discovery require the ability to challenge the conventional, to communicate findings and their implications and to provide informed commentary in the public sphere. Across all areas of its mandate, the university is committed to intellectual integrity, rigorous inquiry and the robust expression and discussion of ideas. Fostering the ability of members of the university community to engage in debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the university’s educational mission. 

Our commitment to freedom of expression is reflected in our commitment to academic freedom, which protects researchers’ rights to pursue research, teach and engage in public discourse without fear of censorship, retaliation, or interference from external entities such as governments, institutions or other authorities. It encompasses the freedom to explore controversial or unpopular ideas, express diverse viewpoints and engage in open inquiry without facing undue pressure or consequences. Academic freedom fosters and protects an environment of open inquiry across political spectrums, including the most contentious debates of our times. 

Universities are not just institutions of learning. They are the bedrock of intellectual exploration and diverse perspectives in a free and democratic society. They are crucial in advancing knowledge, cultivating informed citizens, promoting social mobility and driving economic growth. Most importantly, they are a pillar of any democracy, fostering an educated populace capable of reasoned discourse, critical inquiry and meaningful civic participation.

Bill 18 and Freedom of Expression

We are concerned that Bill 18’s potential application to public post-secondary institutions is inconsistent with our obligations and commitments relating to freedom of expression and robust research. If passed, the legislation could give the Government of Alberta the specific power to prevent an institution from accepting any federal research funding if that funding does not align with “provincial priorities.” In this manner, the Government of Alberta will acquire a broad and discretionary authority to interfere with or obstruct research that does not align with provincial priorities. This is in direct conflict with a university’s responsibility to foster robust debate and a robust research agenda, including controversial or contested topics that might not align with the priorities of the government of the day. 

Federal Funding Overview

Researchers at the University of Alberta secured more than $215 million in federal research funding in 2023, representing almost 1,800 separate federal funding agreements. This research funding is a matter of public record, and we welcome any opportunity to share the details of these research projects with the Government of Alberta. In all our communications, we share information about these research projects and the positive impact this research is having on Alberta, Canada and the world. 

Peer-Reviewed Research

87 per cent of our federal research funding is subject to peer review. Under this process, individual researchers apply independently for federal research funding. The university plays no role in deciding who applies and does not review or supervise the substance of the application. Federal granting agencies award grants to individual researchers which are then held and managed by the university on behalf of the researcher. The federal government funds these peer-reviewed research programs but plays no role in deciding what applications to fund. Instead, this decision is made in a peer-review process where independent experts in the field review the grant applications and determine which ones merit funding. The university has no role in deciding which applications are funded. 

Peer reviewers are chosen to provide expert, independent and unbiased evaluation of research proposals. Reviewers are selected from an international pool of experts, each of whom must declare any potential conflict of interest. Alberta researchers serve as peer reviewers in most major national funding agencies.

Share of Federal Funding

The University of Alberta ranks fifth among Canadian universities regarding its overall share of federal research funding. Our federal funding has increased by 19 per cent over the past five years.


Bill 18 poses considerable risks for the provincial government and Alberta’s research-intensive universities. Provincial intervention in research funding decisions will put Alberta’s universities at a competitive disadvantage, undermining our progress in research excellence. 

Our universities work hard to attract top researchers from around the globe, ensuring their innovations can be developed and commercialized here, helping to drive our economy forward. Bill 18 will have a chilling effect on our recruitment efforts, as researchers may think twice about choosing a position at an Alberta institution if it means their research funding may be at risk. They will be inclined to work at other Canadian universities where there is no risk of any provincial interference in federal funding agreements. 

Bill 18 also has the potential to harm retention efforts and cause research funding to move to other provinces. If researchers are worried about the impacts of Bill 18, they might accept a position in another province and take their funding, research program and patentable intellectual property with them. 

On April 29, the General Faculties Council (GFC) unanimously passed a motion calling on the government of Alberta to either exempt post-secondary institutions from Bill 18 or withdraw the bill entirely. As requested by GFC, I have forwarded a copy of the GFC motion to the Premier and the Minister of Advanced Education.

Our Proposal

Alberta is proudly a free and democratic society. As Albertans, we all share and understand the value of open inquiry and robust debate in a pluralistic and diverse society. We welcome the opportunity to work with the Government of Alberta to ensure that the province’s post-secondaries remain and continue to grow as institutions that deeply value and foster robust debate and a robust research agenda. We always welcome any new research funding opportunities if the Government of Alberta is of the view that there are gaps in the current research funding landscape.

We are asking the Government of Alberta to reaffirm its commitment to freedom of expression and open inquiry. We propose two possible courses of action. Bill 18 can be amended to omit any reference to Alberta’s post-secondary institutions. In the alternative, the regulations enacted under Bill 18 can exempt all federal research funding to post-secondary institutions. 

Bill Flanagan
President and Vice-Chancellor

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