30 August 2012

On education

Today's Globe and Mail has an interesting article on graduate employment that links well to relevant discussions on education. Why are we training our arts grads to be baristas? asks why arts and humanities students are struggling to find meaningful places in the economy. This represents a key failure of the imagination, but also points to a systemic failure of the post secondary education (PSE) system to function as a system. Regrettably, this is par for the course in a country that does not view PSE as a system but rather as two solitudes. Where we lead the OECD in tertiary attainment when we take a combinant approach (college+university combined), we do not acknowledge key variables here:

  • people go to both college and university for a variety of designations (apprenticeship, diplomas, degrees, graduate certificates, graduate degrees);
  • all of these are useful and usable for the economy;
  • there are compounding variables of credential laddering and pathways across all kinds of PSE institutions;
  • university education is not focused on outcomes, which disadvantages learners.
The lack of  articulated outcomes means it is left to the imagination of students to figure out the utility of their education. Regarding the Globe article, it is somewhat ironic that we leave outcomes (and so potential employment areas) to the imagination of arts graduates, who then in turn do not have the imagination to figure this out. This compounds our collective failure to view education as a system, which in turn puts us at a disadvantage internationally. It also relates strongly to our performance in research, and reminds me anew of  the very excellent overview in the HESA blog on the false dichotomy of the bifurcation of basic and applied  research. Our general allergy to thinking about utility (in education and research) is a key reason why our innovation and productivity continue to be below par.

And speaking of below par, I read recently the AUCC Pre-Budget 2013 submission. Regrettably, the AUCC have chosen a rather retrograde path to advocating for greater research funding and more focus on graduate education. While these are certainly worthy goals in and of themselves, the AUCC's refusal to see education as a system is not in keeping with the need to work together across the variety of PSE available. It is sad that they have chosen this tack.

The Pre-Budget 2013 submissions from Polytechnics Canada and the ACCC focus on the entire system. There is certainly commonality among the Polytechnics Canada, the ACCC, the AUCC, and CAGS submissions - notably in supporting immigrant integration and education and research. Polytechnics are advocating for more focus on apprenticeships, and the ACC and AUCC on Aboriginal education. But the latter two stick out for maintaining a siloed view of the world on both of these last two points. Perhaps this is inevitable, but the real value in any national attempts to promote greater innovation and productivity, as related to the key inputs and outputs of education and research, is found in the networked coopetition model. Call me naive, but with this thing called the Internet making in-roads in all aspects of life, things are changing. For the better. And with greater international mobility of people, and this in turn linked to the international struggles for greater economic and social productivity and outcomes, it strikes me that we would be far better off working together.

Which brings me back to education. I certainly support the need to adequately fund graduate education, and arts and humanities and social sciences included as these are complementary to STEM skills. And while CAGS focuses on graduate education (it is their mandate, after all), I am left wondering why we do not recognize the kinds of graduate certificate credentials offered by colleges and polytechnics as part of the continuum of education available to our population. The latest issue of the Queen's University Alumni newsletter has a very good piece on college post-graduate credentials being excellent pathways for university graduates who seek employment credentials. This is a viable option for many people across the country. The market has clearly decided that these kinds of pathways are relevant and valued. Perhaps it is time our education system listens.

21 August 2012

Congratulations and a celebration of Canadian research

Two Canadian researchers - from Ryerson University and the University of Toronto - have been honoured by MIT for their contributions to innovation. The Globe and Mail reports MIT to honour two professors transforming the world from Toronto, showcasing Hossein Rahnama of Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone and Joyce Poon of the University of Toronto's Electrical and Computer Engineering.

I saw Rahnama present at a past OCE Discovery conference, where he won an award for his start up as a graduate student. It's impressive technology, and his comments on the challenges of conducting research in Canada bear repeating:

“Curiosity-driven research has to be there, but as a country we are doing terrible at translating that into jobs and commercial successes,” Prof. Rahnama says.
He has found it hard to find early adopters for his technology in Canada, and earlier this year set up a London office to focus on European users.
“In Canada, we have to commit to a lot of prove points and pilots,” he says. “In Europe, especially Nordic countries, it’s much easier to get companies to try technologies.”
This is a good lesson for all involved in research in Canada - basic and applied - as we work collectively to foster more home grown innovation. And speaking of basic and applied research, here is a good piece on the history of this distinction: Basic research turns 67. It also contains a link to Vannever Bush's 1945 article Science, The Endless Frontier. Both are interesting in light of Canada`s recent efforts to revitalize our moribund record on turning research into innovations. Uncovering the ideological roots of the bifurcation of research is interesting and necessary context for our discussion on innovation.

16 August 2012

Canadian Construction Innovations established to support industry R&D

The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) has established Canadian Construction Innovations, a new research institute to promote innovation in the construction industry. The CCA's priorities include Labour supply and training; Infrastructure investment; Awareness of environmental issues; Public-private partnerships (P3s); Increased competition from global/foreign firms; and New technology. Earlier this year George Brown College hosted Minister of State for Science and Technology the Honourable Gary Goodyear for the announcement of our Green Homes initiative, as recently funded by NSERC and the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation. As outlined in our proposal and subsequent press release, the Green Homes initiative provides an industry-focused applied research and innovation program tightly integrated with the training of highly qualified and skilled personnel in areas such as advanced construction systems, green energy integration and computer-enabled, efficient residential buildings. The project will provide private sector partners and George Brown College students enrolled in the Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies (CCET) programs increased opportunities to pursue applied research projects, resulting in regional economic development and workplace-readiness for students. 

The Green Homes applied research initiative is highly aligned with the CCA's Canadian Construction Innovations, and we applaud and welcome the establishment of this organization. George Brown College look forward to learning more as it develops, and in working with the CCA to support innovation in the construction industries. 

15 August 2012

Polytechnics Canada Pre-Budget 2013 Recommendations

Polytechnics Canada has put forward their Pre-Budget 2013 Recommendations, available on their website. Notable is the continued support of college applied research and the further development of apprenticeship. As I've noted before, the skilled trades are the knowledge workers of the innovation economy, providing a much needed link between our capacity to think up new ideas and to put them into practice - the connection between thinking, making and innovation is a cornerstone of a healthy economy.

The Polytechnics Canada submission has three key recommendations for improving the public-private partnership model of R&D (what we call P3RD):

Through re-allocating funds to industrial applied research, the federal government can help more companies overcome the “death valley” of commercialization and become competitive. Three specific actions are to:
  • Implement a national commercialization voucher program that allows Canadian firms to choose the late-stage commercialization support they need, as recommended by the OECD study;
  • Increase funds for the College Community Innovation Program to $50 million per year to address unmet demand from firms for innovation solutions;
  • Expand the eligibility of NSERC’s Industrial Undergraduate Student Research Awards program to include college undergraduate students.
Fostering improved industry-academic collaborations through a P3RD model is an essential component of helping Canada improve its innovation and productivity. Reforming our approach to education along the way by providing a more modern approach to credential laddering and articulation will in turn foster greater education and training capacity throughout the economy. This can be understood as a productivity issue on the education system, and while Canada regulates education provincially, we have a unique opportunity to leverage federalism to enable greater mobility of highly qualified and skilled personnel across the life span. Life-long and life-wide learning will thus enable greater diffusion of innovation.

10 August 2012

Re$earch Money conference proceedings now online

Back in May I attended the annual Re$earch Money conference, which as I said at the time was one of the best discussions I've seen on innovation in Canada. The proceedings from the conference have now been released on the Re$earch Money website. They are well worth a look as they offer key insights into the business of innovation in Canada.

07 August 2012

Doing science differently

Donald Stuss, President and scientific director of the Ontario Brain Institute, has an excellent article in today's Globe: "For better cures, let’s do science differently." Stuss advocates for a focus on doing science differently that involves understanding the complementary links between basic and applied research as a continuum, and embracing academic cooperation and industry involvement. This is essential for Canada to make the most of its public sector R&D investments. An interdisciplinary and collaborative focus will let Canada orient our world-leading research capabilities to solving today's and tomorrow's pressing problems. Stuss acknowledges that science is driven in some part by instrumentality, and in celebrating this as an eventuality, affords a view of the future that rises above zero-sum thinking in the research funding space.