R&D investments & performers

Overall direct research expenditures in Canada were estimated to be worth $30.4 billion in 2013, which equals just under 2 percent of GDP. The three largest investors in Canadian R&D are the private sector, the federal government and universities. The domestic private sector currently accounts for 47 percent of all R&D expenditures in Canada. As the next largest funder, the federal government contributes almost 20 percent of national R&D funding.

These direct federal investments are dispersed primarily between intramural research performed by federal government departments and agencies, including the National Research Council, and extramural R&D performed by the higher education sector. These extramural R&D activities originate from several agencies, including:

  • The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which is the federal funding agency for academic research in the fields of natural sciences and engineering. The agency supports university students in their advanced studies, promotes and supports discovery research and fosters innovation by encouraging Canadian companies to participate and invest in postsecondary research projects.
  • The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), which is the federal research funding agency that promotes and supports postsecondary-based research and training in the humanities and social sciences. By focusing on developing talent, generating insights and forging connections across campuses and communities, SSHRC strategically supports world-leading initiatives that reflect a commitment to ensuring a better future for Canada and the world.
  • The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), which is Canada’s federal funding agency for health research. Its mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products and a strengthened Canadian health care system. Composed of 13 institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 13,000 health researchers and trainees in universities, teaching hospitals, and research institutions across Canada.
  • The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), which makes investments in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions that are attracting and retaining the world’s top talent, training the next generation of researchers, supporting private-sector innovation and creating high-quality jobs that strengthen Canada’s position in today’s knowledge economy.

Collectively, the three research granting councils, namely NSERC, SSHRC and CIHR, are referred to as the Tri-Council. Some programming is offered by the Tri-Council Agencies in consortium (see Chapter 2).

A smaller portion of direct federal funding goes to other sectors including the business and non-profit sectors. The federal government also provides indirect support for research activities performed by the private sector through the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credit program.

The university sector, the third largest investor in Canadian R&D, accounts for about 17 percent of the country’s R&D funding. Foreign investors, provincial governments and the not-for-profit sector collectively invest the remaining 15 percent of R&D expenditures in Canada.

Research activities in Canada are carried out primarily by the private sector, higher education institutions, namely universities and colleges, and the federal government. In 2013, the private sector was responsible for 51 percent of all research activities performed in the country while higher education institutions performed 39 percent and the federal government performed 8 percent. The provincial governments and the not-for-profit sector conduct a relatively smaller proportion of Canadian R&D.

Universities in Canada perform a larger share of R&D activities than the OECD average (18 percent). This distinctive feature of the Canadian research ecosystem means that universities play a critical role in Canada’s innovation system, much more so than in industrialized comparator countries. These research investments have created an ecosystem where universities are well-positioned to serve as cross-sectoral platforms for regional, national and international R&D activities.

These R&D activities build on a foundation of infrastructure and programmatic support that enables Canada to stimulate internationally competitive, leading-edge fundamental and applied research in areas critical to Canada’s social and economic development.

Universities and research hospitals in 80 municipalities across Canada host more than 8,500 infrastructure projects funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Universities are also home to 18 networks under the Networks of Centres of Excellence program, which brings together more than 2,000 public and private sector organizations in Canada and abroad in leading-edge thematic research networks. The Canada Research Chairs and the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program have helped attract and retain the world’s best researchers while the Indirect Costs program assists universities and their affiliated research hospitals to maintain a world-class research environment. Universities also provide incubation space and services to business and not-for-profit R&D partners in the pre-competitive and competitive stages of knowledge mobilization and commercialization through technology transfer and industrial liaison offices, community research offices. Across the country, 25 research parks are located on or near university campuses.