I received today the September 2012 Contact Newsletter (volume 36, number 4) from NSERC via email. The fourth item in the newsletter reads:

Postdoctoral Fellowships - no change to number of awards Over the last ten years, the volume of applications to the NSERC PDF Program has doubled to about 1,300, impacting the workload of volunteer selection committee members. A change to the eligibility rules for the Postdoctoral Fellowships (PDF) Program was made to ensure that applicants' and reviewers' time was used productively. The eligibility rules were changed to allow students to apply only once during the eligibility window. Please note that this change does not affect the budget for the PDF Program or the number of awards. More information about the new policy is outlined in the Program Guide for Students and Fellows.

Over the last ten years, the faculty at Canada’s Universities has expanded by the addition of 2000 Canada Research Chairs and other strategic recruitment. This “brain gain” has had the desired effect: more highly qualified personnel are being produced by the system. Over the period 1999-2009, there has been an expansion in enrollment in degree granting programs (data extracted from 2010-2011 Tables):

  • Bachelor's enrollment expanded 34% (Table 44)
  • Master's enrollment expanded by 56% (Table 45)
  • Doctoral enrollment expanded by 70% (Table 46)

It does involve a lot of work for volunteers to assess postdoctoral fellowship applications. Instead of punishing the next generation of scientists by restricting the number of competitions they can enter to one, an alternate solution to the workload problem would be to correspondingly expand the size of the volunteer review committee. I volunteer to help with those assessments in mathematics. Other Canadian scientists and engineers could indicate their willingness to help with the assessments by politely contacting their program officers.

The Contact Newsletter item also reports that the budget and number of awards will not be changed. Note the substantial changes that have already occurred between 2010 and 2012.