30 January 2009

The Role of Research or, Budget Confusion

An article in today's Globe outlines the important role that research plays in advancing the knowledge based economy, and the lack of funding for science in this week's budget. However, the article repeats what may be some confusion on funding for the Tri-Council: "The federal budget suggests these key granting agencies are to find $87.2-million in savings over the next three years."

As I said yesterday, the Tri-Council has received "an additional $87.5 million over three years." Here is the complete text from the Budget:

Further Developing a Highly Skilled Workforce
Canada’s ability to prosper in today’s global, innovation-driven economy ultimately depends on the skills, knowledge and creativity of Canadians. Further developing a highly skilled workforce and ensuring that this talent is well applied is a priority.

Budget 2009 builds on investments made in the previous two budgets by providing an additional $87.5 million over three years, starting in 2009–10, to the federal granting councils. This funding will temporarily expand the Canada Graduate Scholarships program, which supports Canada’s top graduate students. . . . (p.106)

On page 270 there is the mention of the $87.2M in savings:

Granting Councils
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada are streamlining operations and aligning programs with the objectives of the Government’s Science and Technology Strategy and national research priorities. Through closer coordination, these agencies are improving the effectiveness of existing programs, aligning their programs with their core roles and fostering the
development of innovative new programs.

These savings will be used in this budget to support repairs at postsecondary
institutions, to upgrade key Arctic research facilities, to expand the Canada Graduate Scholarships program and graduate internships, and to support new world-class research facilities. This budget also sets aside $750 million to support the current and future activities of the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

On the face of it it would appear to be a net gain of $300K, but I think that the Globe's report (the same as what they said on Tuesday) is promoting some misinformation. Finding a way to save money and streamline operations of the granting councils is a good thing - we all need to learn how to do more with less in these lean economic times. Using those savings to increase the investment in highly qualified and skilled personnel will have an even bigger net benefit for Canada.

29 January 2009

Budget 2009 notes

With the federal budget released this week we are seeing that the government plans to invest in post-secondary education infrastructure, though perhaps not as much in the human resources needed to staff these spaces. The Tri-Council has received "an additional $87.5 million over three years," but Genome Canada was omitted from mention altogether, to great consternation. The new Clean Energy Fund should be promising for anyone working in this area. This fund represents a good way for all R&D players to work together on innovations in this sector. The Canada Foundation for Innovation received additional funds, as did the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program.

While pundits are split on the relative merits of the budget, it does continue much of what was initiated in the Science and Technology Strategy. With the current economic situation, it is incumbent on all of us who are working in R&D in Canada to use this as an opportunity to work together to increase social and economic productivity. A radical thought, this collaborate to compete model, but distributed or virtual research clusters with complementary centres of expertise/excellence has worked in other jurisdictions (c.f. the EU's 7th Research Framework Programme; see in particular their Regions of Knowledge concept).

The economic crisis is Canada's call to action. Let's answer the call together.

22 January 2009

Research as a public good

An editorial in today's Globe and Mail outlines how R&D spending should be considered a "public good." While there is no mention of the role of colleges in the applied research aspect of our R&D, the editorial does pick up on a special report from last Saturday's Globe that focused on Canadian innovation. This story outlines many of the hard facts Canada must face in terms of R&D, including the fact that we spend little on research and development overall compared to other countries, we do little to encourage applied research once inventions are made (the "D" in R&D), and that an ecosystem approach to the R&D value chain in Canada necessitates a focus on the complementarity of all players as working together on our productivity, both social and economic. 

09 January 2009

Future proofing productivity

A news story today says that Ontario colleges have seen a sharp increase in applicants, likely due to the recent economic downturn. Two other stories relate to earlier posts about infrastructure and the call to increase funding in public service infrastructure (including education) and retraining. Polytechnics Canada has recently issued a release to the Federal Finance minister advocating for additional funds to support, among other things, retraining to address the looming skills shortage in Canada (I'll link to this when it is posted). Investing in the infrastructure of the mind fosters innovation literacy: creative problem solving skills that are relevant to industry. Our students graduate with expertise in their areas of choice, ready to work as full participants in the Canadian economy. These students will also be future innovators, experienced in solving practical problems using innovative thinking that will be readily applicable to industrial contexts.

College and Polytechnic applied research, as integrated tightly within our academic programs, create an avenue for future productivity gains by creating a workforce of highly qualified and skilled personnel adept at working in today's - and tomorrow's social and economic needs.

Innovation literacy

Innovation literacy: the ability to think creatively, evaluate, and apply problem-solving skills to diverse and intangible issues within industrial problems and multidisciplinary contexts. We believe that fostering innovation literacy in our highly qualified and skilled graduates is a key differentiator of the College/Polytechnic advantage, particularly as regards applied research conducted in close concert with industry and community needs.

By directly involving our students in industry-focused applied research we promote innovation literacy, producing graduates who have research, problem solving, leadership and entrepreneurship skills, and the ability to recognize innovation in the product development lifecycle. This is in addition to the job-ready skills our graduates already possess.

Innovation literacy is a key component of the GBC Research Labs' Strategic Plan, and is a cornerstone of our Strategy 2020 and integration of applied research across all curricula.

Updated: 27 February 2012

08 January 2009

Re:Building the future

Colleges and Universities are lining up for infrastructure spending to address the need to invest in our education systems as part of stimulus spending. In "Academics tout wisdom of spending on decaying campus infrastructure," Globe reporter Elizabeth Church outlines recent advocacy positions by the ACCC and AUCC that are encouraging the government to invest in rebuilding our educational infrastructure. Not only will these sorts of projects result in local jobs, but it will address urgent needs in terms of future-proofing our educational system (literally at the foundation level) while providing increased training opportunities for students and those wishing to retrain. This last point is specifically addressed by Polytechnics Canada in their recent position paper. SAIT, a member of Polytechnics Canada, was recently awarded $4 million dollars "by the Government of Canada towards a new state-of-the-art applied research centre" called Enerplus Innovation Centre:
The facility, housed within SAIT’s upcoming Trades and Technology Complex, will support small and medium-sized businesses by providing applied research services for companies in the energy, manufacturing and construction sectors. Businesses will be able to use the Centre to translate their ideas into successful applications by simulating and validating new technologies or refining products and processes.
This is exactly the sort of infrastructure spending needed that will help Canada train new generations of workers in important areas. Increasing applied research services to industry will have far reaching effects regarding increasing social and economic productivity while leveraging all aspects of the innovation chain that exists in our educational systems.

05 January 2009

Design, innovation

An excellent article in today's Globe and Mail illustrates how recessions are good times to focus on research and development. In "Rewards go to those with courage to innovate," Eric Reguly outlines how the depression of the 1930s gave rise to many of the last century's great innovations.

This makes sense. In a time when we are all asked to make do with less, innovators turn to maximizing returns (from products and processes). In so doing, new and innovative ways of thinking, doing, and producing emerge.

As College applied research capacity has been established to complement the R&D continuum in Canada - itself a process innovation of sorts - we have an opportunity to look at ways we can add value to the traditional resource extraction role that Canada has played. One way to do this is through design.

Sara Diamond, president of the Ontario College of Art and Design, penned a very good piece in the 29 December issue of the Globe on the role design can and should play. (This article, inexplicably, in unavailable on the Globe's website.) "Designing our way to a stronger economy" offers an excellent prescription for how design, including participatory and human-centred design, can help industries add value to products and services. "Design is essential to Canada's science and technology strategy" Diamond asserts, having application in all of the priority areas, and "Countries that rank highly in innovation and competitiveness invest in design."

George Brown College's School of Design - recently voted one of the best design schools in the world - plays a key role in the GBC Research Labs. Incorporating design into our suite of services is one way we offer a return on investment and a return on innovation.