24 October 2014

College Research Rankings: The Measures That Matter

GBC was pleased to ‎learn this week that we were ranked #3 in college research funding according to the Research Infosource top research colleges report released this week. Congratulations to BCIT and NAIT for achieving #1 and #2 respectively.

This is a great boon for BCIT as they are celebrating 50 years of education and 25 years of applied research this year.‎ I look forward to celebrating in November as BCIT hosts the annual Polytechnics Canada student applied research showcase. It is good to note that seven of the top 10 are Polytechnics Canada members, a testament to the strong applied research focus these organizations have taken as a measure of differentiation.

As good as the research funding rankings and the somewhat arbitrary research intensity figure are (research intensity=amount of money spent per faculty engaged) these are not the real measure of value of college and polytechnic applied research. The real story is alluded to in the data Research Infosource has compiled on numbers of partners and projects in this snapshot. Algonquin College tops the list on numbers of partnerships and projects, with BCIT, Sheridan and NAIT (along with George Brown College in second place in both) rounding out the top three in each category. 

This is a stronger measure because it speaks to reach and potential of what we do in terms of industry partner engagement and (missing from the list) student engagement. For example, on the Polytechnics Canada fact sheet you can see that the 11 members did the following research activity in 2013-14:
  • 1,789 Companies/clients serviced by applied research offices
  • 1,774 Applied research projects active and completed 
  • 946 Prototypes developed 
  • 11,927 Students engaged in applied research activity
Similarly, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, now called Colleges and Institutes Canada, has data for applied research activity in its members (which includes all of the Polytechnics Canada members, so these data are inclusive of those above) that show "In 2011-12, more than 24,000 college students and 1,700 faculty and staff collaborated with 4,586 companies across 524 research areas."

Also not captured here is the industry spend in each of these institutions Very often, given the way in which college and polytechnic applied research works, funding support pays for 50% of the costs associated with a project. This leveraged funding component provide a more nuanced view of the value based on the system capacity. A rough calculation to simply double the awarded funding would give a ballpark figure, though this is funding awarded, not funding dispersed; dispersed funding is a better measure of a particular organization's capacity because it shows the spend rate which is more easily matched to projects and partners to get a sense of scale. Including the numbers of students and the outcomes of the work (such as prototypes and products delivered to markets) enables us to start to infer impact. This impact is necessarily linked to research funding, but research funding is not a sole determinant of the outcomes capacity as it exists.
This starts to give us a more robust picture of the value - to firms, to students, colleges and polytechnics and the public - at the value for why we do this important work: to help firms to innovate while training the next generation of innovators. For the real value here is what exists in our partnerships with Canadian industry - and here I include cultural, community and corporate partnerships. Alex Usher has a good post about the relationship of firms to the research endeavour. Ignoring this connection, and the value of graduates equipped with innovation literacy in the economy broadly, are the outcomes that we should be tracking in order to better align the college and polytechnic applied research capacity with the social and economic needs of the economy.

Kudos for Research Infosource for advancing these issues. I look forward to more conversation about how best to measure - and what to measure - the value of the applied research system now in full swing across the country.

No comments: