Well, the past week saw notifications go out to academic economists on the results of their 2014-15 Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Grant applications. Needless to say, there will be a lot of unhappy campers but then there always are when it comes to grant application success. Needless to say, unhappiness has probably been on an upward trend given the fall in success rates not just in economics but across all disciplines. The outcomes in economics are an interesting example of recent trends.
The numbers for the following figures come from SSHRC. The Standard Research Grant (SRG) was the research grant program in place until 2011-12 when it was replaced by two new knowledge and understanding programs – the Insight Grant (IG) and the Insight Development Grant (IDG). Figure 1 plots the number of applications to these programs for the economics discipline as reported in SSHRC statistics as well as the total – with the total coinciding with the SRG numbers until 2011-12 when the new suite of programs begin to arrive. While there are fluctuations from year to year, total applications have generally grown over time. For 2014-15, there were 95 applications for economics for Insight Grants, and 77 for the Insight Development for a total of 172 applications. Compare this to the last two years of the Standard Research Grant program, which saw 153 and 156 applications respectively.
While applications have grown, the success rate has fallen as shown in Figure 2. From overall success rates that were generally above 40 percent, they have declined to where they now stand at just over 20 percent. In 2011-12, the last year of the SRG, the success rate was 39.1 percent. In 2012-13, the first year of the IG, the success rate in economics was 25.9 percent and then fell to 21.5 percent in 2013-14 and 23.2 percent in 2014-15. Success rates in the IDG were initially higher at 42.9 percent in 2011-12, 44.6 percent in 2012-13 and 41 percent in 2013-14. The combined success rate in the IG and IDG was 33.3 percent in 2012-13 and 22.7 in 2014-15. In 2014-15, the success rate in the IDG has dropped to match the IG and stood at 22.1 percent. It should be noted that the success rates for 2014-15 averaged 23 percent across all of the committees.
Figure 3 shows that the arrival of the new suite of programs has not been associated with much of an increase in overall funding. The total amounts of funding requested and the amounts awarded are converted into $2002 using the CPI. While there has been growth in the amounts requested, the total amount awarded did not grow over time. In inflation-adjusted dollars, between 2001 and 2014, the amounts requested by economics grant applications have grown by 37 percent while the total awarded declined by 4 percent.
However, the results for economics suggest that if you are successful in getting a SSHRC, you are better off than before in this new funding environment because the average size of the awards has grown – especially since the end of the SRG program. The lower success rate of the last few years has been accompanied by an increase in the average size of grant awards. In 2002 dollars, the average size of an economics grant in 2011-12 was $47,641 and it jumped to $76,015 in 2012-13. For 2014-15, the average value of a grant in economics across the IG and IDG programs was $78,490. In 2014-15, the average value of an Insight Grant Award ($2002) in economics was $108,074 while the average value of an Insight Development Grant was $40,204.
So there you have it. The total real resources used to fund grants for economics under SSHRC have stayed about the same, the number of applications and value of funds requested have both grown. Not surprisingly, the success rate has gone down. However, if you are successful in getting awarded a grant, the average amount of the award is much larger. Given that the lower success rates are pretty much the same across all the committees, these results are occurring across the disciplines. Fewer are getting more. I wonder if any of the successful projects are for studies in inequality?