With the economy uncertain for the foreseeable future, grant funding for research at Western may become scarce. But it is too soon to tell, according to Paul Cocke, Director of the Office of University Communications.
“Western applies for grants six months and more ahead of time,” Cocke wrote in an e-mail. “The grants we are now operating under were received before the current economic meltdown.”
One program at Western that relies partially on grants is the Border Policy Research Institute (BPRI), which promotes research on issues relating to the Canada-U.S. border to inform policy makers about the effects policy decisions have on cross-border trade, transportation and ecology.
The university created the BPRI in 2004 with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, secured with the active support of Karen Morse, then president of the university, and U.S. Senator Patty Murray.
“Border policy seemed to be sort of knee-jerk,” Director of the BPRI Dr. Don Alper said, alluding to the ever-tightening border security in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. “We got this idea that somebody should be researching this.”
Grant funding is essential to the research of the institute's visiting fellows, he said, which includes funding student research assistant positions.
“In the last three years we've hired more than 40 students as research assistants,” Alper said. “The institute does its own research with students from all [disciplines]. We don't give priority to Canadian-American studies students.”
The institute also has research fellowship opportunities for graduate students working toward their theses.
“They can get a good deal of money to work on their theses,” Alper said.
Alper does not foresee the economic downturn affecting its current research.
“We have a line in the university budget and that keeps us going on projects we're already working on,” Alper said.
But if grant funding becomes scarcer, there may be fewer opportunities for Western students to take future research assistant jobs or research fellowships.
Another possible casualty of a poor economic climate might be ambitious plans to form a Northern Border Universities Research Consortium that would be led by the BPRI and include five other universities near the Canada-U.S. border in Montana, North Dakota, Michigan, New York and Maine.
“The idea is to get federal funds to set it up as a research consortium,” Alper said. “Each university would be given base money to get set up, but the bulk of it would be competitive research grants.”
Attempts to secure funding last year were not met with success.
“It didn't go anywhere. It would have been $9 million for three years,” Alper said.
“It's going to be a lot tougher this year to get any traction. [The federal government] will be looking for things that employ people immediately” to stimulate the economy, Alper said.
“We'll continue to apply for our funding and hopefully it'll be successful,” he added.
Alper's hope is that the research done at the BPRI will be useful to policy-makers and non-governmental organizations on both sides of the border and lead to policies that facilitate smarter integration of Canada and the United States in terms of both trade and travel.
The subjects of the BPRI's current research projects include cross-border emergency preparedness, trans-boundary pollution along the Columbia River, North American Free Trade Act tariffs, public perception of border security and the cross-border travel rights of Native Americans.