06 September 2012

The two solitudes of Canada's competitiveness

A report out today showing that Canada has slipped again in international competitiveness ratings offers (again) sobering statistics on our need to get our innovation and prosperity house in order. A couple of things stand out for me in this report - the focus on education and the point made that "Switzerland’s scientific research institutions 'are among the world’s best, and the strong collaboration between its academic and business sectors, combined with high company spending on R&D, ensures that much of this research is translated into marketable products and processes.'”

As noted, Canada does not take advantage of our "well-educated workforce," primarily because we do not see education as a single entity. The bifurcation between college and university - as evidenced by recent press reports on the difference between college and university graduate salaries, for example - prevents us from realizing the true potential of an articulated education system. (Today's Letters to the Editor has an excellent rejoinder to this discussion from Colleges Ontario president Linda Franklin.) I've written about this before, and also about the fact that Canada is #1 in the OECD for post-secondary education attainment only when you include both college and university together (OECD Type A and Type B education).

On the issue of "strong collaboration between its academic and business sectors," this is a topic of great importance for Canada. We need to realize that industry-academic partnerships are a positive path toward greater innovation capacity. Other countries understand this better than we do; Canada would be wise to embrace what I have elsewhere called P3RD: Public+Private Partnerships for Research and Development. We eschew strong connections in education and research with industry at our innovation peril.

And so there are two two solitudes: the two solitudes of education (college and university) that are treated as a parallelism in Canada; and the two solitudes of industry and academic R&D and production.

On  the former, let's invest the debate with what might be possible with a nationally articulated education system (timely given that Ontario is in the midst of a large scale educational transformation consultation). On the latter, let's take seriously the outputs of the Jenkins panel report and the upcoming release of the Council of Canadian Academies' report on The State of Science and Technology in Canada. And on this note, you can hear a podcast with Expert Panel Chair Dr. Eliot Phillipson discussing this important work on the CCA site.

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