Considering Canadian Federal Funding for the History of Health: An Introductory Post

In Conferences, Funding, Uncategorized by Kate Walker0 Comments

To coincide with the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine/La Société canadienne d’histoire de la médecine and the Canadian Society for the History of Nursing/ l’Association canadienne pour l’histoire du nursing annual meeting running from May 30 – June 1 in Ottawa, I’m writing a series of posts exploring the state of federal funding supporting history of health research in Canada over the past decade with a particular emphasis on graduate students and post-doctoral researchers.

I began my doctorate in 2006, earning my Ph.D. at a time when the number of students enrolled in graduate education in Canada had ballooned: from 1999 to 2009, the number of students in doctoral programs at Ontario universities almost doubled to a total of just over 19,000 students. [V. Maldonado, R. Wiggers, and C. Arnold, 2013).

Along with the growth in university enrollment, the cost of university education in Canada also increased dramatically. For undergraduates, the cost of tuition and compulsory fees in Canada rose from an average of $1,464 in 1990-91 to $6,348 in 2012-13. Tertiary tuition fees for Canadian students are the fifth highest in the OECD and the average debt of an undergraduate student at graduation is $37,000 (“University tuition rising to record levels in Canada“). The average debt of graduates of doctoral programs in the class of 2009-10 was $41,100 (S. J. Ferguson and S. Wang).

I was midway through my graduate education when the global economic crisis of 2007-08 hit. My cohort of graduate students across Canada found ourselves in an increasingly competitive environment where research budgets were shrinking, yet the cost of education was rising.

Funding for research in the history of health was hardly immune from the broader trends; several sources of graduate and post-doctoral funding were redirected or suspended in the wake of the financial crisis. The overall series demonstrates a downward trend in funding for historians of health in Canada by its federal agencies, partially due to broader trends in the wake of the worldwide economic downturn, which have made it increasingly difficult for scholars to access research funding in Canada.

In addition, this series of posts reviews the influence of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s 2009 decision to withdraw support for research that overlapped with the mandate of the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR). Based on an examination of the statistics publicly available on the websites of SSHRC and the CIHR, it appears that the 2009 decision has restricted the overall number of applications and amount of funding received for projects at all research levels related to the history of health and medicine.

There is, however, recent cause for (at least cautious) optimism in the field, as the initial interpretation of SSHRC’s 2009 decision appears to have been mitigated over time. In addition, a recent announcement by the Board of Associated Medical Services (AMS) announcing the creation of the AMS History of Medicine and Healthcare Post-Doctoral Fellowship and Grant Program hosted by the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation (NSHRF) may be cause for celebration among scholars of health in Canada.

The first post in this series will examine trends in Canadian federal funding for graduate and post-doctoral students in History as a discipline. The second post will explore SSHRC’s 2009 decision and its influence on scholarship at the graduate and post-doctorate levels, while the third post will examine the CIHR’s support for health research from the humanities’ perspective at the graduate level. The final post in the series will explore funding opportunities offered by the AMS and wrap up with conclusions regarding the state of funding in the field.


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