02 November 2015

Generation renew: innovation policy and education

I've been reading the revised edition of The Entrepreneurial State which supports the idea of state intervention and the development (and funding) of priorities in basic research. Those interested in this viewpoint would do well to read the interview with Bill Gates in the Atlantic, in which he says the same thing regarding the need for basic science investment in climate change. This is an important point that needs to be discussed as it relates to innovation policy and the public funding of basic and applied research, as well as experimental development (which is the innovation side of the equation - see post script below). There is also an interview in the recent Report on Business magazine with nobel laureate George Akerlof, in which he also supports the notion of state intervention. We are witnessing the rise of behavioural economics that shows how rational actors are induced to act irrationally.

A positive link here is the work that the Canadian Council of Chief Executives initiated recently: the Business Higher Education Round Table (BHER). There are two foci here: research collaborations and work integrated learning. Of particular import is the fact that leaders of business and higher education are working together to find productive solutions to inherent challenges in our economy - the lack of productivity and innovation, as well as persistent (and perceived) skills gaps. Universities Canada new CEO Elizabeth Cannon (co-chair, with GBC President Anne Sado, of the BHER) recently came out with a list of 5 priorities, which includes better industry academic partnerships.

All of this points to what I will call Generation Renew: we are generating renewal through a politics of detente that sees business, colleges, polytechnics and universities working together to address common needs. This includes industrial and academic productivity and partnerships, as well as a greater focus on skills the economy of the future needs.

Generation Renew is not just the generation of new models of cooperation and collaboration, it is also the generation of people that will come up within this milieu and start to address the long standing issues faced by the Canadian economy. Generation Renew supplants the alphabet soup of generational change and flux. Generation Renew are those people who work their way through the educational systems in Canada to acquire skills and competencies, are entrepreneurial and innovative, and who work together to make Canada a better place for all. The right mix of intervention and coopetition will enable Canada to make maximal use of our basic and applied research capacity, while ensuring we have the right skills for the innovation economy.

Post Script: Today's One Thought a Day blog post by Alex Usher offers some good advice on innovation policy. Usher offers views on differential spending between what he calls "pure research and applied research." There is an inherent problem with calling basic research pure research - it implies that applied research is somehow impure (and this in one statement sums up Canada's problem with commercialization as seemingly not pure). And, Usher, like most, ignores the third component of R&D - experimental development, in which innovation emerges. However, let's focus on Usher's repeat of the Jenkins Panel recommendation to support the establishment of an innovation granting council. This is important. While the previous government did a lot to promote HERD as well as to continue the previous Liberal government's initialization of the college research funding program, a lot of the good was lost in the rhetoric of entitlement to what I would call a libertarian view on "pure research": don't tell me what I can and cannot research, just fund me to do what I want to do. As I have pointed out in this space many times over the years, state intervention is required to support the establishment of clusters and national priorities. This is because, even though Canada spends more per capita on HERD than any other G7 country, we do not have the GDP to support research into anything and everything.

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