19 February 2014

Government of Canada announces new Canada First Research Excellence Fund

The Honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology was at UofT today to announce the new Canada First Research Excellence Fund, as outlines in last week's Budget 2014. The fund is open to all post-secondary institutions, and will go a long way to leveraging and amplifying the government's S&T investments made over the years. The CFRE Fund represents a key vehicle for the country's leading basic and applied research organizations to leverage this work into greater productivity - better productivity of our basic research, linked to applied research and to industry and economic development, for improved productivity in the economy as a whole.

There was good discussion by the Minister and other speakers about the importance not only of investing in the entire spectrum of research - from basic to applied - but also of linking this to education and talent. Following successive expert panels and reports, we are finally arriving at a place where all players in the research to innovation ecosystem recognize the need for complementarity, as well as decisions about investments and priorities. In short, this was good news for all involved in the research continuum.

The CFRE Fund will be administered by SSHRC, and SSHRC President Chad Gaffield spoke at the event, outlining the importance of the funding to the research enterprise in Canada. SSHRC puts the business in innovation, reflecting a people-centred innovation approach that SSHRC's President Gaffield has promoted for some time now.

SSHRC's prominence in Budget 2014 includes the College Social Innovation Fund, an approach that Polytechnics Canada has advocated for. Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson, in a recent Globe and Mail op-ed, calls these movements a "turn from a purely knowledge-based economy to a know-how economy." That's a good thought for this day as we look to all actors in the Canadian R&D space to collaborate to compete together as a nation. Minister Rickford reminded the crowd that, as we look to the current Olympics, we recall the government's investments in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the drive to "own the podium." The current funding, and the S&T (and now I) strategy, reflect Canada's capacity to own the Research and Innovation podium.

12 February 2014

Budget 2014 promotes innovation

Yesterday's federal budget has been described in the press as cautious, but there are some smart policy prescriptions that will advance innovation, employment and skills training (among other things). Some of these come as a direct result of recommendations by Polytechnics Canada. As the George Brown College press release points out:

Several specific college-focused programs that had been recommended by Polytechnics Canada were supported in the budget, including:
  • Creation of the College Social Innovation Fund at the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) will connect polytechnic innovation talent with the applied research needs of non-profit and not-for-profit organizations with $10 million in new funding over the next two years.
  • The Canada Apprenticeship Loan for registered apprentices in Red Seal Trades will provide up to $4000 per training segment to apprentices, interest-free and only requiring repayment after completion of training
  • Flexibility and Innovation in Apprenticeship Technical Training - a pilot program aimed to improve the apprenticeship system to support up to 12 multi-year projects to stimulate innovation and flexibility in the delivery of apprenticeship technical training
  • Creation of a National Job Bank to improve available labour market information
The College Social Innovation Fund (CSIF) is one to watch, as this will round out the College and Community Innovation Program (CCIP) to enable colleges to meet the social innovation needs of community partners. It is important to note that CSIF is not a dilution of CCIP but an addition to it; the total  dollars for college and polytechnic research through Tri-Council have grown. This is a significant advance for the applied research community, and comes as a direct result of the targeted interventions recommended by Polytechnics Canada.

There were other R&D related development in the budget that will have positive downstream effects for Canada. Notably Budget 2014 announced the creation of a new Canada First Research Excellence Fund which will start being funded in 2015-1016, and will include all post-secondaries (universities and colleges). In addition, the Mitacs Elevate program is being expanded and combined with NSERC's Industrial R&D Fellowships program (though the NSERC resources are to be "redeployed to other priorities within the Council, including basic discovery research"). The Budget notes that "This consolidation of offerings is consistent with the Government’s intent to streamline programs with similar objectives in order to reduce duplication and scale up the most successful approaches, in line with the recommendations of the Expert Panel Review of Federal Support to Research and Development." This is specifically oriented toward "Enhancing Industry-Relevant Research Training,"  a key outcome of polytechnic applied research and the formation of innovation literacy skills in our graduates. 

That the government has taken seriously the recommendations of the Jenkins Panel bodes well for Canadian R&D - both basic and applied. The new Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy, which Budget 2014 notes will be released later this year, will further shore up Canada's approach to innovation emerging from our world leading research labs, catalyzed in our polytechnic and college applied research capacity, and taken to market by industry. So while pundits may declare this a boring budget, the stage is set for the entire continuum of the research community to advance the state of R&D in the country.