21 April 2009

George Brown College Response to the CFI 2009 Consultations

The Canada Foundation for Innovation has embarked upon a consultation process in advance of distributing the $600M in new funds received from the recent federal budget. As part of this consultation process, all institutions wishing to participate in the funding programs were asked to send in their thoughts as to how best to structure any new funding programs. Below is the response from George Brown College.

This response to the CFI consultation discussion paper offers several ways in which better support for Colleges and Polytechnics will aid Canada’s innovation strategy and the federal Science and Technology Strategy. Colleges address the four areas that CFI is interested in exploring, some directly, some indirectly. While CFI has historically focused on the capabilities of individual investigators within institutions, we need to make the case that, while we do conduct some discovery based research that meets the excellence criteria for individual investigators, Colleges are more institutionally focused. That is, we offer industry-facing applied research capabilities that are institutional, not individual, as applied research centres marshal resources (people, materiel) from across our Colleges to fill gaps in the R&D pipelines in Canada. Our focus on applied research, innovation and commercialization activities supports industry problem-solving in ways that are complementary to established, discovery-based research institutions. This is a strength, and a necessary facet of the R&D continuum. Supporting College applied esearch capacity thus is in line with the federal Science and Technology Strategy (most notably through the College and Community Innovation Program administered by NSERC), and provincially in Ontario through MRI’s continued support of the Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII). George Brown College has received first round NSERC CCIP funding, and is also a founding member of CONII.

CFI should recognize and support the unique contribution that colleges are already making to strengthening Canada’s capacity for research, innovation and commercialization. To do so, CFI needs to structure its strategy and its application and granting process in order to leverage the institutional versus individual applied research focus that Colleges bring to the equation. In saying this, we are not asking for special consideration in our applications to the CFI for funding of infrastructure. We expect to be judged based on the excellence of our proposals and our ability to complement the R&D continuum, as noted above.

The impact of CFI’s work will be extended considerably by drawing more intentionally and more fully on the capacity of Canada’s community colleges. Investing in the applied research layer of Canada will enhance our overall social and economic productivity. Colleges represent a key vehicle for attracting business expenditures on research and development (BERD), matching the higher education expenditures on R&D (HERD).1 Colleges work with established basic research centres and industry partners to enhance competitiveness overall in the sectors we serve. Generally speaking, firms are not making effective use of the postsecondary research facilities we currently have. The goal of College applied research centres is to enable firms to make more effective use of public applied research facilities in support of increased BERD, which will result in increased productivity.

CFI should take a proactive approach to supporting R&D complementarities, and the institution-based applied research strengths of Canada’s Colleges. For George Brown College, the intentional application of applied research and innovation services supports industry needs and contexts, thereby facilitating the design of innovation - how to test the practicality of new products or services (adoption and adaptation). Colleges most ably speak to the need documented by CFI to enhance the role of Canadian institutions in knowledge translation and commercialization that is of benefit to Canada. Our participation in the R&D continuum fosters social and economic productivity across the fabric of industry sectors we serve. Our impact is not as much based on discoveries by individuals in individual laboratories. Rather, our impact is more environmental, in that we support the whole by filling in the parts that are not currently well supported in Canada – the applied research, commercialization-focused "last mile" services industry needs in order to test market practicality assumptions. CFI should build on the initiatives started by the CCI Program, and encourage industry sector partnerships that go beyond providing deep discounts to infrastructure. Industry should be supported in seeing themselves as equal participants in the applied research facilities, with ongoing investments in their use.

Supporting applied research in Colleges, particularly those (like George Brown College) that work well with established university partners, will strengthen regional innovation clusters, and create more value for industry-facing research and development activities. Broadening the potential outputs for all R&D in a given area by supporting applied research inputs will foster increased productivity, thereby enabling Canada to realign R&D expenditure imbalances, and correct the long-standing poor record we have on innovation generally, as understood by the OECD and the Conference Board of Canada.

We know from various national and international studies that Canada lags in innovation compared to similar developed countries. The Conference Board of Canada, in its 11th annual snapshot of Canada’s socio-economic performance entitled How Canada Performs: A Report Card on Canada, assessed Canada's ranking as 13th out of 17 countries in innovation and gave this component its worse grade — a "D".2 The OECD and Global Insight have drawn similar conclusions regarding Canada's weak position in terms of innovation capacity and performance. Global Insight assigned a rating of "C- ", its lowest rating among eight factors reviewed, for Canada's 'Capacity to innovate'.3 The Conference Board of Canada called for action from educational institutions to support the innovation agenda in another report entitled, 'Solving Canada's Innovation Conundrum: How Public Education Can Help'.4 The authors note that "how students develop their innovation skills depends on the nature of their educational experience... Ultimately innovative processes, tools, and techniques generate students with higher levels of skills for innovation". One of the three strategic approaches identified to make innovation a priority is the development of relevant institutional capacity. The Conference Board's call to action consists of four 'pillars':
  1. Develop a pan-Canadian framework for promoting innovation skills;
  2. Recognize and credential innovation skills;
  3. Strengthen links among education, business and communities; and,
  4. Increase innovation training in pre-service and in-service programs for educators.

Our proposed work will contribute to several facets of this call to action.

College applied research supports the development of highly qualified and skilled personnel (HQSP). Our students working on applied research projects gain innovation literacy: the ability to think creatively, evaluate, and apply problem-solving skills to diverse and intangible issues within industrial problems and multidisciplinary contexts. Fostering innovation literacy in our highly qualified and skilled graduates is a key differentiator of the College and Polytechnic advantage, particularly as regards applied research conducted in close concert with industry and community needs. In this way, College applied research supports the call for better deployment of public funds in the R&D sector, supporting the applied research capabilities of Colleges working in concert with regional networks in support of innovation. In recognizing the unique capabilities of the applied research layer the Colleges bring to the equation, CFI can support HQSP graduating from College programs: this represents 70% of the Canadian workforce. In so doing, CFI has a unique opportunity to support what is called open innovation in Canada: "the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively" (Chesbrough). This is the central facet of R&D complementarities, whereby all R&D organizations, working together with firms, can foster an open approach to innovation and capacity building for improved social and economic productivity in Canada.

1 Canada is second in the OECD for HERD; 12th for BERD. Realigning this imbalance and encouraging more private R&D investment is seen by many as one way to increase productivity.
2 http://sso.conferenceboard.ca/HCP
3 Global Insight Canada on Canada's Fundamentals
4 Solving Canada's Innovation Conundrum: How Public Education Can Help, July 2003, The Conference Board of Canada

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