Application process - Competition 1

Warning The description provided on this page relates to a previously held Fund competition. For information on currently offered Fund competitions, see the Program Details section.

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Value and duration
Selection criteria
Application requirements
Selection process


Only Canadian postsecondary institutions that meet the eligibility requirements of one of the three federal research granting agencies may apply for and hold a Canada First Research Excellence Fund (Fund) grant.

To be deemed an eligible Canadian postsecondary institution for the purposes of Fund competitions, an institution must:

  • be authorized by a provincial or territorial government to grant university degrees, applied degrees or postsecondary diplomas;
  • offer its own degrees or diplomas, and not simply certify that a student is qualified to receive a degree or diploma from another institution;
  • have awarded degrees or diplomas over the past two years, or have students registered in the current calendar year or the three subsequent years;
  • in the case of a public institution, receive operating funds directly from a provincial or federal government and not through another institution;
  • in the case of a private institution, hold formal not-for-profit status, and not receive its funding through another institution; and
  • meet the eligibility requirements of one of the three federal research granting agencies; institutions may be eligible to apply to university or college programs within a particular agency:

While there is no limit to the number of proposals in which it can be listed as a partner, an institution can be identified as the lead institution for only one proposal within any given competition. For example, an institution can identify itself as the lead institution in its own proposal while simultaneously being identified as a partner in one or more proposals led by other institutions.

Researchers cannot apply to the Fund directly.

Value and duration

There is no prescribed award size. It is expected that some institutions will submit proposals for large awards, to support complex institutional initiatives demonstrating the potential for global leadership in focus areas of strategic relevance for Canada. Other institutions may decide to submit proposals for smaller-scale initiatives, more narrowly-focused in scope, yet still potentially world-leading and capable of resulting in partnerships with other global leaders.

The amount of funding requested in a Fund application should be established keeping in mind that each award is expected to support a broad, ambitious, institutional strategy that focuses on the areas in which the institution can realistically achieve global leadership.

The review process will consider the degree of originality and ambition of the proposal relative to the existing research capacity of the institution and, where applicable, its partners. It is expected that institutions awarded a Fund grant will extensively invest their own resources and those of partners to support the proposed initiative.

All awards are for up to seven years, to allow recipient institutions enough time to achieve the initiative’s proposed objectives.

Note: An institution can apply as the lead institution for only one award within a given competition.

All grants are nonrenewable. Successful applicants, however, may submit an application in a subsequent Fund competition, to support the evolution of initiatives previously supported through the Fund, new initiatives, or a combination of the two.

Fund awards will not be included in the calculation of credits to institutions for those tri-agency programs that allocate funding based on percentages of funding received from the federal research granting agencies (e.g., the Research Support Fund [formerly Indirect Costs Program] or Canada Research Chairs Program).

Selection criteria

Fund grants are awarded competitively, following an expert strategic review process that involves a prestigious, arm’s-length selection board.

Applications are assessed based on the following three criteria and related subcriteria:

1. Scientific merit and demonstrated capacity to lead on an international scale:

  • originality and positioning of the proposed research with respect to existing national and international capacity;
  • potential for the proposed research to provide breakthrough impact on a global scale;
  • level of excellence of the existing research underpinning the proposed initiative;
  • the institution’s faculty research strength in the proposed field(s);
  • potential for the institution to demonstrate global research leadership in the proposed field(s); and
  • quality of the institution’s relevant research facilities, as well as of the opportunities and environments for research training.

2. Strategic relevance to Canada:

  • potential for the proposed research to create long-term economic advantages for Canada;
  • alignment of the proposed initiative with the Government of Canada’s science, technology and innovation priority research areas (note that only initiatives aligned with the Government’s priority research areas will be funded);
  • ability of the proposed initiative to leverage additional resources and promote knowledge mobilization through partnerships with:
    • the private sector;
    • international research institutions; and/or
    • public sector, academic and philanthropic organizations, both in Canada and abroad; and
  • potential for the research results to foster innovation (e.g., to create or build upon commercial endeavours, advance public policy or otherwise mobilize research discoveries).

3. Quality of implementation plan:

  • the institution’s vision and willingness to commit internal resources towards supporting the proposed initiative;
  • demonstrated strength of the institution’s research culture and standards;
  • quality of the implementation and risk management plans; and
  • suitability of the institution’s performance measurement plan as a basis for reporting, progress-monitoring and midterm review.

Note: Given the aspirational nature of this program in targeting global excellence and leadership, proposals must, in order to be considered for funding, score high across all selection criteria. However, proposals will ultimately be differentiated based on the potential of a proposed initiative to achieve globally leading research outcomes in areas of long-term economic advantage for Canada.

Application requirements

Applicants must submit the required application forms by the deadline indicated for their competition.

Each eligible Canadian postsecondary institution can apply as the lead for only one award within a given Fund competition (see Eligibility above for more details).

Research areas

Each proposal may focus on one or more highly strategic initiatives among the institution’s priority research excellence areas.

Each proposal may focus on one or more highly strategic research areas. Proposals for lower-value awards are expected to be for initiatives that will advance a single area of research excellence at an institution. Proposals for large awards could advance more than one area of research excellence at the institution.

The institution must make the case for the choice of research area(s), and must describe how advancing this/these would serve the institution’s overall strategy for global excellence.

Notice of intent

Institutions intending to submit a proposal in a Fund competition must first submit a notice of intent to apply. Notices of intent are used for administrative purposes only, and allow the Chairs Secretariat, which administers the Fund program, to start identifying potential experts for the proposal’s adjudication.

Each notice of intent must include:

  • a high-level summary of the initiative, including the approximate amount of funding to be requested in the full proposal; and
  • for each research area of focus, an outline that includes:
    • a high-level description of the main elements of the proposal, including the proposed research and activities to be funded;
    • keywords related to that area of research; and
    • a list of secured and potential partners.

Institutions that do not submit a notice of intent cannot submit a full proposal.

There will be no evaluation of the notice of intent to apply, and it will not be circulated outside the federal research granting agencies.

Full proposal

Each full proposal must include the following:

Part A—Implementation plan:

Institutions must present a formal institutional strategy describing in detail how the grant will be used to achieve the strategy’s stated objectives.

Part A will be used to assess elements of criterion 3 (above). The intended audience for Part A is generalists.

Part A must include:

  • a description of the institution’s vision and a statement of its willingness to commit dedicated internal resources to support the initiative;
  • a description of the institution’s demonstrated strength in research culture and research standards;
  • an implementation plan that outlines:
    • how the institution will use the award and why;
    • a planned high-level budget;
    • how the institution will make decisions regarding the allocation of the grant; and
    • the respective roles to be played by senior management, management committees, partners, etc.;
  • a risk assessment and management plan;
  • an equity plan outlining how career and training benefits derived from the opportunities associated with the initiative will be made available to designated groups (women, visible minorities, Aboriginal people and persons with disabilities); and
  • a performance measurement plan, to be used as a basis for ongoing reporting, progress-monitoring and the evaluation of results during the midterm review.

Part B—Scientific strategy:

Institutions must address the Fund’s selection criteria related to scientific merit and capacity for global excellence, and to strategic relevance for Canada (criteria 1 and 2 above). Proposals must include one Part B for each research area of focus.

Part B must include:

  • a description of the institution’s existing capacity in the area (people, training environments and opportunities, infrastructure);
  • a high-level research program for the proposed research area covering the duration of the award;
  • a description of both secured and potential partners, and leveraged funding;
  • a high-level description of how the institution will use funds allocated to this area of research strength;
  • a description of the expected scientific impact, at a global level, of the proposed research program;
  • a description of the potential for the research area to generate benefits for Canadians and to create long-term economic advantages for Canada;
  • a description of how the proposal will contribute to advancing the Government of Canada’s science, technology and innovation priority research areas; and
  • a knowledge mobilization strategy, including plans for innovation, commercialization, contribution to public policy, etc.

Selection process

Fund awards are made following a rigorous, competitive, international peer review process. Proposals undergo a multilevel peer review process that includes evaluation by external experts, assessment by review panels, and strategic review by the selection board, before being sent for final approval to the steering committee.

Expert review

International experts will be solicited to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each Part B, in relation to the first criterion, “scientific merit and demonstrated capacity to lead on an international scale.” Part A will also be provided as context.   

Expert review evaluations are provided to the review panels.

Review panels

Review panels evaluate in detail the relative strengths and weaknesses of groups of applications, based on the related selection criteria, making observations on the requested budgets. See the Review panels page for more details.

Selection board

The selection board provides recommendations to the tri-agency steering committee, specifically regarding the most strategic way to award the budget available for the competition among those proposals demonstrating the greatest potential to achieve globally leading research outcomes in areas that promise long-term economic advantages for Canada.

Steering committee

The steering committee is composed of the presidents of CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (as an observer), as well as the deputy ministers of Industry Canada and Health Canada.

The committee reviews the adjudication process to ensure that it was rigorous, objective, transparent, and consistent with the objectives of the program. Based on the selection board’s recommendations, the steering committee provides final approval of all Fund awards.