Update on the Foundation Grant program

July 17, 2017

Dear colleagues,

Over the past three months I have heard concerns about the Foundation Grants program from all sections of the research community, including the researchers and institutional leaders I met during my tour of 10 universities, as well as from CIHR Scientific Directors, the Chairs of the College of Reviewers ("College Chairs"), University Delegates, and selected community leaders.

Two themes were very consistent throughout these discussions:

  1. The funding allocation to the Foundation Grant program is widely viewed to be too large, compared to the Project Grant program. This issue was also raised by the International Peer Review Expert Panel when they noted that it "may be that the Foundation Grant numbers needed to be and will need to be more greatly constrained until additional funding is available. The allocation of 45% of the investigator-initiated budget to this program is viewed by the Panel as ambitious and too high at this stage and in the context of available funding." Nevertheless, the community is generally supportive of the vision of the Foundation Grant program, and most researchers I have met with support the idea of a program that recognizes our most exceptional scientists.
  2. The inclusion of early career investigators (ECIs) in the Foundation Grant program, initially implemented to increase the funding success rate of ECIs, is inconsistent with the vision of this program. However, there is virtually universal agreement on the need to assure the success of ECIs in the Project Grant program.

To reconcile these two issues, and to accommodate the Foundation Grant registration deadline of August 8, 2017 (which remains in effect), CIHR is implementing two changes (both approved by Governing Council) to the 2017-18 Foundation Grant competition. As a reminder, this is the competition that was launched in March 2017.

The following changes have been made:

  1. The total funding envelope for the Foundation Grant program will be reduced from $200M to $125M, and the $75M reduction will be redirected to the Project Grant program.
    • This shift will result in approximately 78% of CIHR's investigator-initiated research budget being allocated to the Project Grant program and 22% to the Foundation Grant program. The shifting of the ratio between the two programs aligns with the recommendation of the International Peer Review Expert Panel.
    • As a result, we expect to fund approximately 40 Foundation Grant recipients in the 2017-18 competition, a number based on the average grant size of Foundation grants awarded to established investigators in previous competitions.
  2. Early career investigators (ECIs) will not be eligible to apply to the Foundation Grant program, starting with the 2017-18 competition, but CIHR will ensure that the success rate of ECIs is equalized in the Project Grant program.
    • A significant majority of key stakeholders, including ECIs to whom we have spoken and who have a Foundation Grant, agree that the eligibility for the Foundation Grant program should not include ECIs. This issue was raised repeatedly during my tour of 10 universities.
    • Again, the objectives of the Foundation Grant program do not align with ECIs, who are trying to establish their careers, and who do not have a track-record to provide a baseline level of funding for a Foundation Grant. Moreover, a Foundation Grant limits the ability of ECIs to grow their research programs, since they are not allowed to apply for Project Grants. Thus their funding remains locked in at their career-starting (and generally low) level.
    • To ensure that ECIs are not disadvantaged by this new restriction, CIHR will continue its policy of equalizing the success rates of ECIs in the Project Grant program (i.e., the success rate of ECIs will be equal to the proportion of ECIs who applied). This equalization should ensure that a comparable number of ECIs still receive funding. We will continue to monitor the ECI success rates closely and may intervene if necessary.

Just as the changes to the Project Grant competition announced July 10 were a first step in improving the allocation of CIHR funding, the above changes in the 2017-18 Foundation Grant competition are the beginning of an evolution of the Foundation Grant program.

We realize that some of you may have already invested time in registering for the Foundation Grant competition, or in writing your application. To those ECIs who have already submitted or started your registration, we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, but these decisions are overall the best choices for the whole research community. I hope that you will understand that these changes were necessary and could not wait for the 2018-19 competition.

Otherwise, the 2017-2018 Foundation Grant competition will continue with the same Stage 1 application and peer review of it. However, we are examining the feasibility of implementing changes to the Stage 2 peer review process. For example, can we replace the virtual review at Stage 2 with a face-to-face process? Doing so is conceptually straightforward, but is operationally challenging for this current competition for a variety of reasons. That said, we will continue to explore the feasibility of this option.

If you have questions about these changes and what they may mean for you, I invite you to get in touch with our Contact Centre at support@cihr-irsc.gc.ca.

Finally, the invitations to review for the 2017-18 Foundation Grant competition are being sent out. If you receive an invitation, please accept it. The success of all grants programs is critically dependent on high-quality peer review.

Thank you for all of your feedback. We will keep you engaged in discussions about this program over the next few months. We are in the process of setting up an ad hoc committee to carefully review the Foundation Grant program and make recommendations to me, the Scientific Directors and Governing Council about the best way forward.

Sincerely,
Roderick R. McInnes, C.M., O.Ont., MD, PhD, FRSC
Acting President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

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