Evaluation of the tri-agencies’ support for research training and talent development (the Talent Evaluation)


The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

© His Majesty the King in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, 2024.

Cat. No. CR22-128/1-2024E-PDF
ISBN: 978-0-660-70481-4

Evaluation of the tri-agencies’ support for research training and talent development (the Talent Evaluation)
April 2024

(PDF, 400 Kb)

Table of Contents

About the evaluation

The purpose of this evaluation was to assess funding provided by SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR for graduate student training (i.e., training for master’s and doctoral students). It was undertaken to support strategic decisions about talent-related funding at these agencies.

This evaluation covered the period from 2014 to 2021. Primary data were collected through key informant interviews, case studies, focus groups and two surveys. Secondary data included agency administrative data, external stakeholder reports and survey data from external organizations.

About the funding

The agencies invest in a portfolio of funding to enhance research training and Canada’s future research capacity. The portfolio includes two broad streams:

  1. Direct stream: direct support to graduate students through scholarship and fellowship awards.
  2. Indirect stream: indirect support for training through grants to researchers (i.e., investigators/co-investigators funded through agency research grants). Researchers are expected to provide experiential training for graduate students by involving them in the implementation of agency-funded research or through other modes of research-related training. Researchers may also provide financial support to graduate students in the form of stipends or salaries.

The total amount of financial support provided to graduate students through the two streams averaged just under $460 million per year in fiscal years 2018-21. Of this, $196.1 million per year was through direct awards. Within the scope of this evaluation, the agencies provided financial support to 9,708 graduate students through active direct awards in 2020-21 and funded 25,395 active research grants within the portfolio through which participating students received experiential training.

Evaluation questions

  1. Who does the portfolio reach?
  2. How does this portfolio contribute to the research training environment?
  3. Does this funding influence student career trajectories?
  4. What should the agencies consider in the context of changes in the training environment and/or student experience due to COVID-19?

Key findings

Portfolio reach

Training experience and trajectory


The recommendations focus on opportunities for the agencies to diversify their reach to graduate students and renew their contribution to research training. These are outlined below and detailed in the final report.

Empowering trainees

  1. Improve agency communications and public reporting about agency investments in training for graduate students. Provide a centralized source for accurate and timely, whole-portfolio information.
  2. Work with academic institutions to improve transparency and clarity of policies and practices related to funding reallocation.

Providing leadership to improve funding practices for students.

  1. Work with academic institutions to reduce the impact of reallocations on students and address underlying factors driving funding reallocation practices.

Develop a whole portfolio strategy.

  1. Future development of a strategy for research training should encompass the whole portfolio.
  2. Take measures to increase availability and use of data about trainee support across the portfolio to enhance monitoring, evaluation and public reporting.

Indirect stream funding

  1. Clarify training objectives for agency research grants, ensuring that expectations for training are clearly articulated for prospective grant applicants.
  2. Continued investment in the three types of indirect funding is recommended. Consider increasing investment in indirect funding types supporting cross-sectoral and professional skills training (Type 3 and Type 4).
  3. Consider raising grant levels, alongside measures to encourage increasing the proportions of grants allocated to training, and a corresponding increase in per-student stipend level.

Direct stream funding

  1. Reassess direct funding and clarify its role as part of the future portfolio.

It is recommended that the agencies deliberate carefully on what they want to achieve with the awards going forward, what is realistic for this type of intervention to achieve in the future, and whether the necessary investment of time, focus and money to renew the awards is feasible.

In reassessing the direct awards, the agencies need to also consider the following recommendations to advance EDI and training-related outcomes, and the availability of resources to implement them:

  1. Consider expanding the number of awards at earlier degree levels.
  2. Extend doctoral degree stage eligibility windows or eliminate degree stage eligibility restrictions.
  3. Allow part-time students to apply for agency awards without the need to justify their part-time status.
  4. Address insufficiency of awards funding.
  5. Work with institutions to address transparency and perceived fairness of review processes, and to protect privacy of students with respect to self-identification / special circumstances.

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