Value and duration
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 (the Fund) grant.
To be deemed eligible for the purposes of Fund competitions, a Canadian postsecondary 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—whether for university or college programs—of one of the three federal research granting agencies:
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. Some institutions may submit proposals for large awards, to support complex institutional initiatives demonstrating the potential for global leadership in 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.
When establishing the amount of funding to request in a Fund application, applicants should keep 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. Institutions awarded a Fund grant are expected to extensively invest their own resources and those of partners to support the proposed initiative.
Successful applications will be awarded a term of seven years, to allow recipient institutions enough time to achieve their initiative’s proposed objectives. Funds will be disbursed in quarterly instalments over the duration of the grant.
Continued funding will be subject to annual reporting requirements, as well as a midterm report and review. Failure to submit a required report will result in the suspension of payments until the report is received. If the results of the midterm review are not satisfactory, funding to the initiative may be phased out or stopped.
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.
For the two inaugural competitions, applicants who were unsuccessful in Competition 1 can submit a letter of intent addressing the same thematic area in Competition 2 or submit a letter of intent in a different thematic area. Applicants who were successful in Competition 1 can apply to Competition 2 to advance a different area of focus but their proposal must demonstrate that they have the capacity and the resources to successfully carry through a second ambitious institutional initiative of the scale and scope that is expected of a Fund grant.
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 or Canada Research Chairs Program).
Fund grants are awarded competitively, following an expert strategic review process that involves a prestigious, arm’s-length selection board.
Funding decisions are assessed based on the following three criteria and related subcriteria:
1. Scientific merit and demonstrated capacity to lead on an international scale:
- level of excellence of the existing research underpinning the proposed initiative;
- the institution’s faculty research strength in the proposed area(s);
- quality of the institution’s relevant research facilities, as well as of the opportunities and environments for research training;
- 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; and
- potential for the institution to demonstrate global research leadership in the proposed area(s).
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:
- quality of the institution’s vision, and the institution’s willingness to commit internal resources toward 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 monitoring progress and assessing results.
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.
Applicants must submit the required application forms by the deadline.
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).
Inaugural Competition 2
Please note: For information concerning Competition 2, please also refer to the Letter of intent (LOI) and application instructions.
Only initiatives that are aligned with the Government of Canada’s science, technology and innovation priority research areas may be funded:
- Environment and Agriculture;
- Health and Life Sciences;
- Natural Resources and Energy;
- Information and Communications Technologies; and
- Advanced Manufacturing.
More information, including sub-areas, is available in chapter 4, Focusing on Priorities , of Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy, launched December 2014.
Each proposal must focus on only one highly strategic initiative related to the institution’s priority research excellence 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, provided that the proposal clearly demonstrates how these subthemes are linked and how they combine to provide a coherent strategic focus for the institution and that the initiative will be delivered under clearly integrated institutional leadership.
The institution must make the case, in its proposal, for the choice of research thematic areas and sub-areas, and must describe how advancing these would serve the institution’s overall strategy for global excellence. Submitting a scientific strategy with multiple subthemes of uneven quality will weaken the overall competitiveness of the proposal and might raise doubts with respect to the institution’s ability to self-assess its strengths and make the difficult choices that will undoubtedly be required to successfully implement a Fund award.
Letter of intent
Institutions intending to submit a proposal to Competition 2 must first submit a letter of intent (LOI) to apply. LOIs will be adjudicated through peer review against the following subcriteria:
Criterion 1. Scientific merit and demonstrated capacity to lead on an international scale (existing scientific capacity):
- the level of excellence of the existing research underpinning the proposed initiative;
- the institution’s faculty research strength in the proposed areas(s); and
- the quality of the institution’s relevant research facilities, as well as of the opportunities and environments for research training; and
Criterion 2. Strategic relevance to Canada (alignment with federal research priorities):
Reviewers will assess all LOIs against the Definition of Ratings, which describes the expectations and characteristics of each possible rating.
The adjudicated LOI will enable the selection board to identify those institutions and proposals that demonstrate the greatest potential to meet the Fund’s goals and ambition, based on the subcriteria noted above. This preliminary selection process will reduce the application burden on institutions.
A letter of intent must include:
- a high-level summary of the initiative, including the approximate amount of funding to be requested in the full proposal;
- a description of how the proposal will contribute to advancing the Government of Canada’s science, technology and innovation priority research area(s);
- for the research thematic area proposed, an outline that includes:
- a description of the institution’s existing capacity in the area (people, training environments and opportunities, infrastructure), which will be used in the adjudication process;
- information that will provide context for reviewers but will not be adjudicated (e.g., a high-level description of the main elements and proposed research); and
- information used for administrative purposes only (e.g., keywords related to the research thematic area and a list of secured and potential partners).
Institutions may submit full proposals only after they have been invited to submit based on the review of their LOI.
The full proposal cannot differ significantly from the LOI. In particular:
- A Part B with significant changes in the thematic area will be rejected.
- All major partners should have been identified at the LOI stage. However, the Tri-Agency Institutional Programs Secretariat would not reject an application from the competition if there was a change in the partners at the full proposal stage (e.g., if one partner’s contribution had not been solidified in time for the LOI).
- The amount requested from the Fund should not differ significantly between the LOI and full proposal. The total amount provided by the institution, its partners and other sources should also not change significantly.
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, in line with the goals and ambitions of the Fund.
Part A will be used to assess elements of criterion 3. 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 that includes 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);
- 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; and
- a performance measurement plan, to be used as a basis for reporting, monitoring progress and assessing results.
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 (criterion 1 and criterion 2). A scientific strategy will have one common research thematic area and can include multiple research subthemes.
Part B must include:
- 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; and
- a knowledge mobilization strategy, including plans for innovation, commercialization, contribution to public policy, etc.
Peer reviewers will assess all applications against the Definition of Ratings, which describes the expectations and characteristics of each possible rating.
Please note: An eligible institution can propose only one scientific strategy (Part B) as the lead institution. There is no limit to the number of proposals on which it can be listed as a partner.
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.
International experts will be solicited to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each Part B, in relation to criterion 1, scientific merit and demonstrated capacity to lead on an international scale, and criterion 2, strategic relevance to Canada. Part A will also be provided as context.
Expert review evaluations are provided to the review panels.
For the LOI stage of inaugural Competition 2, expert reviews will not normally be sought except to supplement the expertise of the expert review panel; this will be determined on a case-by-case basis, as required. Expert reviews will be sought as part of the review process for the full proposal.
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.
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.
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 Innovation, Science and Economic Development 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.