In recent years, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education research has been gaining traction and has become increasingly valued globally. This growth is supported by substantial research funding. For example, the United States provides US$7 billion annually in federal funding to STEM education, which includes US$105 million through their National Science Foundation for research to improve undergraduate STEM education.
In order to remain internationally competitive and better support Canada’s technological aspirations, STEM programs in Canada are seeking to improve their curriculum and program delivery. This is certainly the case for engineering education, a key driver of Canadian competitiveness. Yet the absence of dedicated research funding hinders the ability to study the complex interactions between academia and industry in Canada, the success of Canadian graduates, and the impact of program redevelopment.
Despite these funding challenges, several Canadian universities have established, or are developing, graduate programs and graduate courses in engineering education (e.g. University of Toronto, University of Manitoba and Queen’s University). The majority of these Canadian researchers rely on a patchwork of foundation contracts, donors and industry to support research, and much research is done without any funding whatsoever. It is simply not possible to build engineering education research programs substantively without a consistent and sustainable funding source, so these admirable efforts have limited program development potential. Some schools have created internal funds for educational initiatives; however, these funds are typically small, and they provide little opportunity to learn about how to properly conduct or sustain educational research. Small internal grants also tend to confine knowledge locally and thus limit how widely this knowledge is shared. Most critically, this dearth of funding implies that engineering education research is simply not valued or needed, when in fact the exact opposite is the case, if Canada is to strengthen its world class engineering faculties so as to sustain its global leadership in engineering and a strong economy.
A significant gap exists in Canada's research funding ecosystem. The federal government needs to create a dedicated program of funding to support post-secondary STEM education research.
This research funding gap is, in part, a result of a lack of coordination between the research granting councils.
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funding does exist for research on STEM education at the primary and secondary school levels, but primarily for researchers in social science and humanities.
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) does not have adjudication committees addressing disciplinary educational research, making it challenging for engineering faculty to obtain funding to study education in their own fields (e.g. for an engineering professor to study the way to improve engineering education in their own classroom). Thus the research funding gap falls between NSERC and SSHRC’s mandates and could be addressed through better coordination between these research granting councils.
Engineers Canada is currently developing a national position statement on Engineering Education Research Funding that will outline the desired next steps from the federal government. The national position statement will be publicly available in Fall 2017.
Engineers Canada will continue to work with the federal government on this issue.