Troublesome Trends at NSERC

I was troubled to learn recently that:

1. NSERC awarded far fewer postdocs and grad student fellowships in 2011 vs. 2010.

The official statistics reveal that NSERC awarded less than half the number of PDFs in 2011 than were awarded in 2010. Master’s awards are down. Doctoral awards are down. NSERC communicated an official explanation in reply to N. Ghousshoub’s post on this news, but the numbers still trouble me.

2. NSERC staff appears to have reallocated funds across disciplines, without consultation.

In the past, changes to NSERC’s investment strategy took place in consultation with the academic scientific research community through reallocation exercises. NSERC President Suzanne Fortier’s reply to the public letter by the math/stats community reports that the reallocation exercise was "determined to be very demanding with limited return" and has been discontinued. It is reassuring that the Ministry of Industry and NSERC have requested input from an expert panel on science performance and research funding. It is unclear what role the report and recommendations from the expert panel will have on NSERC policies. What is clear, in light of the data assembled by N. Ghoussoub, is that NSERC staff has substantially changed their investment portfolio across disciplines over the past five years.