Operating context and key risks

Operating context

The Government of Canada and NSERC recognize that Canada’s future prosperity will be determined by the ability of Canadians to harness the results of investments in natural sciences and engineering research and development. New innovations in emerging and disruptive technologies in areas such as clean technologies, big data analytics and artificial intelligence are driving the need for new skills, ideas and innovations.

NSERC’s main stakeholders are Canada’s postsecondary institutions, their faculty, their students, and Canadian business enterprises that conduct and fund R&D. Canadian universities, colleges and polytechnics are challenged by increasing enrolments, an ageing faculty, the lack of diversity of faculty and students in science and engineering, restricted growth of operating budgets, and the pressure to equip their graduates with market ready skills that employers are demanding. Canadian businesses are struggling to invest in R&D and become more innovative. Most NSERC programs are demand-driven and are impacted by the challenges facing our primary stakeholders. For example, an aging university faculty slows the hiring of younger researchers and female faculty. NSERC’s Research Partnership program’s potential growth is affected by stagnant business R&D investment.

As a small agency, NSERC may be limited in its ability to reallocate/utilize resources effectively to meet operational needs, stakeholder expectations, and respond to government priorities. Governance and decision-making underpin NSERC’s ability to manage change.

Key risks

NSERC’s risk management framework provides a comprehensive view of corporate risks, and assigns responsibility for their management. Risk management has been fully integrated into the Agency’s annual integrated planning cycle. Management has ascertained that the overall level of risk to the organization is low in terms of continuity of government operations, the maintenance of services, the protection of Canadian public interests, and the safety and security of Canadians.

In 2018-19, NSERC’s main risks fall under two main categories:

1. Ability to Manage Technological Change and Resource Pressures: Information Infrastructure and Grants Management

NSERC offers funding opportunities that provide support to Canadian researchers and students through grants, scholarships and fellowships. On an annual basis, NSERC processes over 18,000 applications, relying on over 10,000 voluntary peer reviewers, to assess funding for researchers, students, and fellows. To ensure the most efficient delivery of its programs, NSERC requires a robust, efficient and adaptable grants management solution that facilitates the process throughout the grant application and award management lifecycle.

To address challenges associated with outdated technologies and inefficiencies resulting from using a number of different IT systems to deliver its funding, NSERC and SSHRC are developing a new grants management solution that will offer greater functionality and ease of use for the research community. Until this new system is available, NSERC will continue to rely on existing systems and may not be able to adapt to changes in research priorities, reporting requirements and technology. In light of the critical importance of information infrastructure in delivering programs and tracking results, NSERC and SSHRC have developed joint governance structures to oversee project governance and investment planning and to ensure business continuity. It will also work in close collaboration with the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to ensure a more harmonized approach to grants management across the three agencies.

2. Ability to Manage Policy and Program Change: Responding to Changing Priorities

During the period of transition of its information and grants management infrastructure, NSERC will also need to act on new initiatives arising from the government’ response to This link will take you to another Web site Canada’s Fundamental Science Review and the direction provided in This link will take you to another Web site Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan. As part of this response, NSERC will work in collaboration with SSHRC, CIHR and the Canada Foundation for Innovation to address the priorities articulated by newly formed This link will take you to another Web site Canada Research Coordinating Committee. In the context of limited financial and human resource capacity, NSERC may find itself stretched with respect to its ability to respond in a timely manner to potential program, structural changes while also continuing to deliver results on its existing commitments.

General information
Risks Risk response strategy Link to the department’s core responsibilities Link to mandate letter commitments or to government wide and departmental priorities

Ability to manage technological change and resource pressures: NSERC may not be able to effectively allocate its limited resources to support internal and external pressures while developing a common grants management system which may impact the cost, complexity and timeliness of NSERC program delivery.

NSERC will work together with SSHRC and CIHR to replace their respective ageing and disparate grants management systems with a shared solution.

NSERC will develop a multi-year resource management plan to improve overall organizational effectiveness.

NSERC will strengthen the fundamental tools of governance, systems, and processes, including the link between resource management and corporate planning.

Funding Natural Sciences and Engineering Research and Training


Ability to Manage Policy and Program Change: NSERC, as a small agency, may be limited in its ability to respond to government priorities such as the government’s response to the Fundamental Science Review and new initiatives resulting from the Innovation and Skills Plan.

NSERC will work within its existing governance, planning, and priority setting mechanisms to adapt to changing priorities in delivering on the agency’s core mandate and government directives.

Funding Natural Sciences and Engineering Research and Training

This link will take you to another Web site Minister of Science Mandate Letter i :

Examine options to strengthen recognition of, and support for, fundamental research to support new discoveries.

This link will take you to another Web site Innovation and Skills Planii

Support leading-edge research for innovative and job-creating businesses.

i Mandate Letter: This link will take you to another Web site http://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-science-mandate-letter

ii Innovation Agenda: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/062.nsf/eng/home

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