Talent Program Renewal: Consultation Discussion Guide
Current Support under the Talent Program
The Vision for Renewal
Benefits of Renewal
Key Issues—Send Us Your Feedback
In its 2007 strategic plan Framing Our Direction, SSHRC committed to improving its suite of funding opportunities. This commitment provided the basis for the Program Architecture Renewal project, which aims to create a more flexible and effective system of application and assessment to support the most promising students and best researchers, and to maximize the contributions of the social sciences and humanities to Canada’s economic prosperity and quality of life.
Following the launch of the new Insight and Connection programs in 2010, a framework is now being developed for the renewal of SSHRC’s Talent program, the goal of which is: “to support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in order to develop the next generation of researchers and leaders across society, both within academia and across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.”
The Program Architecture Renewal exercise provides an opportunity to critically examine the ways in which SSHRC funding opportunities support the Talent program goal, and to consider possible adjustments and improvements.
The issues presented for consultation have been developed based on analysis of national and international trends in graduate studies and skills development, as well as initial discussions with key stakeholders. The current consultations with students, postsecondary institution representatives and other stakeholders will refine a set of recommendations to be submitted to SSHRC’s governing council in the spring of 2012.
Current Support under the Talent Program
SSHRC supports research training both directly, through scholarship and fellowship programs (awards for subsistence to students) and indirectly, through grant programs that enable grant holders to provide stipends (indirect awards for subsistence to students) and research assistantships (salaries).
In 2010-11, SSHRC provided $120.8 million of direct funding to students and postdoctoral researchers, or 36.5 per cent of the total SSHRC grants and fellowships budget. In addition, indirect SSHRC funding to students represented approximately $40 million.
This dual approach of direct and indirect funding allows for close to 3,500 new and ongoing master’s and PhD students to be supported directly through scholarships and fellowships annually, while roughly 2,500 additional undergraduates, master’s and PhD students and postdoctoral researchers are supported through grants.
While there is little question about the need to maintain a mix of direct and indirect support, the program architecture exercise will provide an opportunity to consider the appropriate balance between these two approaches, as well as ways to promote greater synergy between direct and indirect support to research training. It will also allow for a critical examination of some fundamental aspects of training and training support, including the criteria used to assess training, the diversity of skills required for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to integrate into the labour market, effective mentorship, and factors affecting study completion.
Increased government investment
In the past few years, the funding landscape for the training of highly qualified personnel (HQP) in Canada has been transformed, due in large part to investments by the federal government. Since 2003, the Government of Canada has, in addition to SSHRC’s existing Doctoral Fellowships and Postdoctoral Fellowships programs, created several new tri-agency funding opportunities, including: the Canada Graduate Scholarships (CGS) program; the Vanier CGS program (doctoral), the CGS Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplements; a temporary allocation of $17.5 million to fund business-related research through the CGS program; and the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships Program.
SSHRC’s direct research training opportunities are administered in varying degrees of collaboration with Canada’s two other granting agencies, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). For example, the Vanier CGS and Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships programs are now fully harmonized on a tri-agency basis, and are promoted and delivered completely through one electronic platform (CIHR’s ResearchNet) on one, single website. On the other hand, the original tri-agency CGS program only has some key characteristics shared among all three agencies, such as the value of the award and the condition that the awards can only be taken up at a Canadian university. The program architecture exercise offers the opportunity to better align and harmonize, wherever appropriate, delivery models, application processes, program requirements, and eligibility rules and regulations.
Co-delivery of funding support
The final key characteristic of current SSHRC Talent support is the co-delivery of funding opportunities with the faculties and departments of graduate studies at Canadian universities. Universities play a central role not only in managing funds for awardees, but also in the process of application and – for some funding opportunities – initial screening and adjudication. In considering the future of its own funding opportunities, SSHRC will continue to strive to improve service standards, create efficiencies in the co-delivery of programs, and assess and refine business practices in light of changing technology.
The Vision for Renewal
SSHRC’s vision for the renewal of the Talent program involves maintaining many key features of existing funding opportunities, including:
- the mix of direct and indirect support;
- the continued co-delivery of direct-support programs with Canadian postsecondary institutions; and
- a strong tri-agency element, with ongoing efforts to harmonize delivery of these funding opportunities with the other federal granting agencies.
At the same time, new elements would be introduced.
First, SSHRC proposes to adopt a more consistent approach to research training across all of its support, both direct and indirect. This approach would focus on the acquisition of a diverse set of research and research-related skills, the cultivation of a global outlook, and the encouragement of effective mentorship. These elements, in turn, would be reflected in the criteria used to adjudicate research training aspects of grant applications. Increased efforts would also be made to track and report on SSHRC’s indirect investments in the development of talent.
Second, the new architecture would, for the first time, contain provisions for multi-institutional (and cross-sectoral) partnerships to support research training. Specifically, the new program architecture would consider dedicating some of SSHRC’s Talent budget to expand the existing Partnership Grants and joint initiatives funding opportunities to encompass projects focused primarily on research training. Partnerships between postsecondary institutions and other interested parties could enhance students’ research training experience by leveraging additional funds for internships and other innovative skills development activities, as well as scholarships and fellowships in specific areas of interest to employers.
Finally, a range of further modifications and improvements to existing programs of direct support to students and postdoctoral researchers would include such changes as: integrating the Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplements into the CGS application process; introducing changes to the formula used for calculating university quotas and allocations; modifying the period of funding available for doctoral students to take up their award and complete their studies; introducing research training plans wherever appropriate; and enhancing the co-delivery model with postsecondary institutions.
Benefits of Renewal
The renewal of the Talent program will allow students and postdoctoral applicants to take full advantage of simpler application and adjudication procedures and processes; greater alignment of key characteristics of funding opportunities, such as eligibility and selection criteria; and new strategic opportunities to open up richer research-training experiences.
The renewal will provide both SSHRC and its co-delivery partners (Canadian postsecondary institutions) with new opportunities for administrative streamlining, cost savings, and greater flexibility to develop or leverage partnerships or strategic initiatives.
Last but not least, the renewal will benefit all Canadians, as SSHRC awardees are better positioned to acquire critical skills, share insights gained through their research, and apply research-based knowledge and expertise across the economy and society.
Key Issues—Send Us Your Feedback
SSHRC is seeking your feedback on the following key issues related to the renewal of the Talent program.
All feedback will be treated confidentially,
Deadline for feedback: January 15, 2012
How to Submit your Feedback
Please respond to questions 1 through 7 using the text boxes provided.
To help us analyze and report meaningfully on the feedback gathered, we ask that you indicate your role (e.g., student, faculty member) and province or territory of residence. The email address field must be completed in order to submit this online form.
Student or postdoctoral researcher
Faculty member at Canadian post-secondary institution
Administrator at Canadian post-secondary institution
Your province/territory of residence:
A) Adopting a Consistent Approach to Research Training Across All SSHRC Funding Opportunities
SSHRC proposes to adopt a common definition of effective research training to be applied across its programs of direct and indirect support. This definition will focus, in particular, on the acquisition of a diverse set of research-related skills, the cultivation of a global outlook, and the encouragement of effective mentorship.
Increasingly, graduates are pursuing advanced degrees for careers not only in academia, but also in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. This means tremendous opportunites to mobilize and apply research-based knowledge gained by students. In order to be prepared to enter the labour market and successfully transition and integrate into the working environment, however, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers must be equipped with a diverse set of skills, including not only qualitative and quantitative research competencies, but also teamwork, effective communication, project management, and an understanding and appreciation of global issues.
Another key consideration for the Talent program is to help awardees gain international exposure, as Canada needs an internationally connected, highly skilled work force to take advantage of the opportunities in the new, global economy. Over the last decade and accompanied by the rise of new digital technologies, research in all disciplines, including the social sciences and humanities, has become highly internationalized, and programs of support to research training need to reflect this reality through international study opportunities, networking, and other means of cultivating a global outlook.
External research and internal data also show that the average time to completion of a doctoral degree in the social sciences and humanities ranges from six to eight years. Furthermore, attrition rates in doctoral programs are often beyond 50 per cent. The existing literature on PhD completion cites several reasons for completion difficulties,
including inadequate supervision, unmanageable thesis topics, unsustainable funding from student stipends, and inadequate thesis structure and support. Ensuring effective mentoring and institutional support of research trainees is therefore a key element in promoting successful completion of research training programs.
Effective mentorship, international mobility and connectedness, as well as a diverse set of research and research-related skills are seen as key contributors to success in the completion of advanced studies and in gaining access to the labour market. What measures might SSHRC consider to better promote these elements of training?
Are there other elements that should be considered in defining effective research training?
B) Increasing Partnership Opportunities for Training Support
Currently, SSHRC offers limited opportunities for partnering in the support of students and postdoctoral researchers. SSHRC has been approached by parties interested in developing collaborations between universities and the private, not-for-profit or public sector to deliver funding opportunities for the development of highly qualified people (HQP), but has not had the opportunity to fully explore these opportunities. Similarly, SSHRC is also at times approached to develop corporate partnerships to support graduate students. SSHRC would like to foster partnership and joint initiative opportunities for talent development, and to explore whether/how these initiatives could be best leveraged to enhance the kinds of research training experiences available to students and postdoctoral researchers.
Are there particular kinds of partnerships in support of research training activities such as internships, co-ops, specialized labour market preparedness training, etc., that SSHRC should promote as part of its Talent program?
How much emphasis should SSHRC place on opportunities for partnering in support of research training, as compared to its existing mechanisms for direct and indirect support to students and postdoctoral fellows?
C) Enhancing Existing Direct Program Support
SSHRC is proposing to enhance and modify its set of direct funding opportunities. This may include changes to the delivery model, to program requirements and application processes, and to eligibility rules. Changes could include:
- simplifying the application process for the Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplements, and considering similar foreign study supplements for SSHRC’s other scholarship/fellowship funding opportunities;
- introducing changes to the formula used for calculating university quotas and allocations, to put greater weight on institutions’ success in ensuring degree completion;
- modifying the period of funding available for doctoral students to take up their award and complete their studies – for example, by providing both SSHRC and CGS doctoral award holders with up to three years of support, to be taken during a five-year window;
- changing the eligibility to apply for SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowships in order to focus limited funds on first-time postdoctoral award holders;
- requiring explicit research training plans for doctoral and postdoctoral awardees; and
- enhancing the co-delivery model with postsecondary institutions.
What principles and criteria should be used to determine the allocation of SSHRC awards by institution, particularly if one of SSHRC’s objectives is to encourage degree completion?
How can SSHRC improve the application process for individual applicants and institutions?
Are there other issues that SSHRC should consider in its efforts to ensure the success of its Talent program?
If you experience technical difficulties with the above online form, please contact the SSHRC webmaster; or email your feedback to:
The following steps are planned for the spring of 2012:
- submit to SSHRC’s governing council for consideration a set of recommendations based on information gathered during the consultation;
- share with interested parties a summary of the feedback and decisions taken; and
- launch the new Talent program framework.