14 September 2011

Business+Academic R&D=Greater Productivity & Prosperity

An article today on linking businesses with academic institutions outlines key benefits to articulating higher education with the needs of industry to innovate. James Millway of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity correctly describes this need - using the Waterloo region Technology Triangle as an example - though his focus on universities only misses the mark. The article does refer to Conestoga College - a member of Polytechnics Canada - as a constituent that participates in the training of highly qualified and skilled personnel that also supports business innovation in firms.

Linking industry and academic institutions is something done very well in many other productive economies (Finland, Germany, Singapore, UK, US). Canada has made good progress in this area, particularly with investments in college applied research that is geared explicitly toward aiding businesses with innovation supports. The last federal budget announced new funding programs for colleges, including a new fund for colleges and universities to work together to support industry. This is a strong example of a public+private partnership approach to R&D support that is advancing a de facto Canadian innovation policy. At present Canada has a strong invention policy - as noted here Canada is fourth in the world for Higher Education Expenditures in R&D, but 15th in the world for Business Expenditures in R&D. That is to say, we have a world leading basic research infrastructure that produces top talent and inventions. What we need now is an innovation policy. An innovation policy will foster greater ties between business and academic institutions, leverage our world-leading level of tertiary attainment (from colleges and universities), and address key challenges and opportunities in R&D for greater social and economic prosperity. The Review of Federal Support to R&D will likely address this given its focus on business innovation.

As we collectively modernize our approach to research, development and innovation, we would do well to recognize complementary strengths across the entire post-secondary education system as drivers of innovation and downstream prosperity and productivity. Yesterday's release of the OECD's Education at a Glance clearly shows the value of all forms of education. The Martin Prosperity Institute has recently published two reports on The Value of Education (Part 1 and Part 2) that further support the investments in education and the potential this represents for the Canadian economy. Linking education and workforce preparation with the needs of the innovation economy is the most sure route to future prosperity.

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