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Research and development of Canadian Private Non-profit organizations, 2006

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by Catherine ten Den

This article highlights expenditures and personnel devoted annually to scientific research and development (R&D) by Canadian private non-profit (PNP) organizations. These organizations play an important role in the Canadian R&D landscape: providing financial support to researchers in universities and other laboratories and performing their own research.

About the author

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The R&D expenditures of PNP organizations performing their own research have been included as one of the sectors within the gross domestic expenditures on research and development (GERD) data in Canada since 1976. The GERD data serve many users including federal and provincial government analysts who develop and monitor programs aimed at stimulating science and technology in the Canadian economy, international organizations, university researchers, business enterprises, the general public and the media.

Although the contribution of the PNP sector to the national R&D effort is small in performance dollar terms (generally 0.4% of GERD), its impact in funding R&D (about 2.9% of GERD), specifically in the higher education sector, is important. The PNP sector funds almost one-tenth of R&D performed by the higher education sector, the second largest national performer of R&D behind the business enterprise sector.

The organizations which make up the PNP sector that are active in R&D are grouped into three types:

  • Private philanthropic foundations
  • Voluntary health organizations
  • Research institutes

Private philanthropic foundations are active mainly in charitable and educational work rather than R&D and therefore allocate all of their R&D funds to extramural projects carried out by other non-profit organizations or in universities. Examples of such activities include improving health care availability, or educating and communicating information on various areas of interest.

Larger voluntary health organizations are generally concerned with a specific topic, for example, cancer treatment and research. Most of their funds come from individuals and organizations through periodic campaigns or bequests. The support of medical R&D accounts for all of their expenditures.

Research institutes conduct most of the R&D in the sector, largely in the medical sciences.

The total intramural R&D expenditures of private non-profit (PNP) organizations were $125 million in 2006 (current dollars). Based on constant dollars, preliminary data for 2006 indicate that growth continued in the sector (4%), but at a slower pace than for 2004 and 2005 (8% and 10% respectively).

Approximately one-half of the R&D expenditures performed by PNP organizations in 2006 was financed by the performing PNP organizations (including other Canadian sources which are primarily funding PNP organizations) and business enterprises (Table 1). The government share is equal to that of the performing PNP organisations. Foreign funding, while a very small contributor to the sector’s R&D funding, has increased its share five-fold since 2001.

Table 1 Sources of funds for private non-profit intramural research and development, 2006 (millions of dollars). Opens a new browser window.

Table 1 
Sources of funds for private non-profit intramural research and development, 2006 (millions of dollars)

In 2006, half of the PNP organizations’ intramural R&D funds were received by medical sciences compared to 79% in 2001 (Chart 1). Other natural sciences increased their share from 14% to 37% during the same time period. Social sciences and humanities more than doubled their share of total expenditures (5.9% to 12.4%). Examples of social sciences and humanities research include developing family policy, promoting mental health, and analyzing and critiquing public policy issues.

Chart 1 Private non-profit R&D expenditures by field of R&D, 2001 to 2006. Opens a new browser window.

Chart 1 
Private non-profit R&D expenditures by field of R&D, 2001 to 2006

There has been a slight shift in the percentage of persons engaged in R&D in the PNP sector by occupational category from 2001 to 2006 (Table 2). Comparing 2001 to 2006, scientists and engineers experienced an increase of about six percentage points, while technicians and technologists have shown only a slight increase. The ‘other’ occupational category1 experienced a decrease by about eight percentage points.

Table 2 Percentage of persons engaged in R&D by occupational category, private non-profit organizations, 2001 and 2006. Opens a new browser window.

Table 2 
Percentage of persons engaged in R&D by occupational category, private non-profit organizations, 2001 and 2006

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About the author

Catherine ten Den is with the Science, Innovation and Electronic Information Division at Statistics Canada. For more information about this article, please contact


  1. The ‘other’ category includes persons directly engaged in R&D, i.e. machinists and electricians engaged in construction of prototypes, or staff engaged in the administration or clerical support of R&D units.