24 June 2015

Seizing the Moment: Input to NSERC's Strategy 2020

NSERC President Dr Mario Pinto recently launched a wide consultation into a new Strategy for the organization. George Brown College hosted one of the town hall consultation session which was well attended by college faculty, staff and industry partners. I submitted the following comments to the online survey, pulling from many ideas and comments made in this space over the past few years.

Going forward, will the NSERC 2020 Strategy help the Canadian research community achieve this vision?

Canada has a productivity problem – industrial and academic – and the NSERC Strategy 2020 has the potential to reinvigorate the research, development and innovation (RDI) continuum in Canada, provided some small changes are made to its focus. Canada has a strong research and development capacity, though this is overly focused on basic research. Applied research, supported through universities, colleges and polytechnics, is lagging. We have excellent basic research capacity but very low innovation capacity – our academic research does not produce comparable outputs and our businesses do not invest in R&D to the rate of our OECD counterparts. This is a serious problem that needs to be explicitly addressed in the NSERC Strategy.

The Council of Canadian Academies State of Science and Technology, 2012 report outlines this problem:
  • Canada is among the 5 leading countries in 7 of 22 fields, and among the 10 leading countries in an additional 14 fields.
  • With 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, Canada accounted for 4.1 per cent of research papers in 2005-2010 (7th in the world)
  • However, Canada holds only 1.7 per cent of patents
  • In 2010 Canada had a negative balance of nearly $5 billion in royalties and licensing revenues
This represents a serious academic productivity challenge that is compounded by low industry investment. Where Canada leads the G7 in per capita public funding for R&D (Higher Education Expenditures on R&D – HERD), we lag the OECD in Business Expenditures on R&D (BERD).

The four strategic goals are highly laudable and will be effective inputs to a healthy and vibrant RDI ecosystem. Under number 2 – Building a diversified and competitive research base, it mentions that “We will build upon the potential of academic institutions of all sizes” – this needs to be amended to “all types and sizes.” Since 2003, when the federal investments first began for college and polytechnic applied research, these investment have not only grown steadily but have shown proven results. George Brown College, as one example, works equally well with our private sector partners – helping firms to get new products and services to market, in the process creating jobs and wealth in the economy. We also work with scientists and researchers in Greater Toronto Area universities, helping them to get products made, PhDs completed, patents and publications into the marketplace. We have an opportunity to link an emergent RDI ecosystem comprising universities, colleges and polytechnics, to the private sector. This will help ensure that we can work together in productive ways to aid universities in getting innovations to market, while linking the private sector to both applied and basic research capacity that exists in our post-secondary education systems. In so doing, we will increase academic and industry productivity, ensure that students from across the spectrum of qualifications understand innovation, and create prosperity for all. This supports your third strategic goal of “Strengthening the dynamic between discovery and innovation.” For the workforce functions best when complementary expertise from a variety of disciplines and depth work well together.

How can we work together to ensure success?

We have an unprecedented historical opportunity to leverage all components of the RDI ecosystem toward greater productivity and innovation capacity. When we focus on giving students – from apprentice through undergraduate to graduate – the experience of working together in high functioning cross disciplinary teams on invention and innovation, we help to create and foster the next generation of talent that understands complementary expertise as a vital component to vibrant economies. This means enhancing the capacity of colleges and polytechnics to engage in applied research with firms and university partners – the CCI Program has started this through innovative funding instruments that support college applied research capacity and college, university and industry partnerships. These efforts must be enhanced.

The commitment to global excellence is well founded, and there is strong precedent here. As the CCA 2012 report indicates we “punch well above our weight” in terms of our basic research capacity. It is widely known, and has been studied extensively by successive expert panels (Jenkins Panel, CCA) that our innovation capacity lags seriously. The NRC’s Concierge Service is one way that we can enhance and foster greater partnerships. We should do more. NSERC has a significant role to play in terms of your ability to have line of sight into world leading basic and applied research capacity. Linking universities, colleges ad polytechnics with the private sector can be the purview of NSERC partnerships. Taking a proactive view to building links and bridges, either via geography or sector-based, will enable scientists to access the skills and talent, machinery, equipment and markets and networks inherent in the college and polytechnic sector. Building complementary expertise in relevant scientific priority areas will enhance overall economic performance by ensuring higher academic invention productivity while linking to industry receptivity.

Industry as a whole does not perform enough R&D, nor understands the need for it in some cases. The geography of basic research in our world leading universities is not necessary linked to industrial receptivity. Providing greater stewardship of R&D results into, for example, prototyping and development capacity at a college or polytechnic, and then linking this explicitly to potential industrial partners, will help Canada improve our R&D standing. We need this kind of market intervention in order to realize the value of the investments we are making. There are those who will resist this thinking, either on ideological grounds (against any market intervention) or on the basis of any money going to one sector is less for another. This is outmoded thinking. The future prosperity of Canada demands we take a complementary and equitable approach, realize value for money on our investments, and ensure that we leverage all aspects of the publicly funded RDI system – linking the production of highly qualified and skilled personnel from across the educational spectrum. Doing so will future proof the investments made to date, and be a hedge against the global competition for talent and industrial development. The NSERC Strategy 2020 is a timely opportunity to stake out our future potential.

19 June 2015

Applied Research Day celebrates the Galaxy of Research at GBC

This week saw over 200 people convene on the George Brown Waterfront campus for Applied Research Day. Students, faculty, staff and industry partners were treated to interesting panels and an exploration of the #gbcgalaxy.
Applied Research Day 2015 at George Brown College
Applied Research Day 2015 at George Brown College

The panel discussions exemplifies how applied research enacts our Strategy 2020, engaging students in innovative and experiential learning opportunities while engaging high value partners in support of innovation and entrepreneurial activities. A highlight was the awarding of Outstanding Student Researcher awards and Research Mentor awards. These awards to students, faculty and staff celebrate applied research achievement at the College, and were presented by our Chancellor, Sally Horsfall Eaton. Each received a digital badge highlighting their achievements. Look for these to be displayed on their LinkedIn profiles!

Here is the list of student awardees:
  • Savannah Allmin, School of Fashion Studies
  • Lynn Bailey, School of Dental Health
  • Ryan Billinger, School of Mechanical Engineering
  • Nicholas Cramaro, School of Computer Technology
  • Robert DeCaire, School of Computer Technology
  • James Henderson, Angelo Del Zotto School of Construction Management
  • Cody Nairn, Chef School
  • Hyun Ju Jang, Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies
  • Kai Tam, Sally Horsfall Eaton School of Nursing
  • Hayley Turnbull, Chef School
  • Holden Vetro, School of Fashion Studies
Outstanding Student Researcher Badge 2015
Outstanding Student Researcher Badge 2015
We also awarded a badge for Student Entrepreneur of the Year, as sponsored by startGBC, our Gateway to Entrepreneurship. This year's award went to:
  • Jerry Gou, a recent graduate from the Centre for Business' School of Marketing was named the 2015 Student Entrepreneur of the Year. He co-created REACH, a mobile app for job hunters.
Outstanding Student Entrepreneur Badge 2015
Outstanding Student Entrepreneur Badge 2015
As this was the first year we awarded Research Mentor badges we celebrated those from 2007-2014 as Outstanding Research Mentors:
  • Steffanie Adams, Professor, School of Architectural Studies 
  • Jean-Paul Amore, Professor, School of Design
  • Lorraine Betts, Professor, Sally Horsfall Eaton School of Nursing
  • Moira Cockburn, Professor,Chef School
  • Julie Gaudet, Professor, Sally Horsfall Eaton School of Nursing
  • Jamie McIntyre, Professor & Coordinator, School of Mechanical Engineering Technologies
  • Leo Salemi, Professor & Coordinator, School of Mechanical Engineering Technologies
  • Chris Timusk, Professor, Angelo Del Zotta School of Construction Management 
The 2015 Outstanding Research Mentors are:
  • Debbie Bonfield, Professor, School of Health & Wellness 
  • David Hu, Technician, School of Mechanical Engineering Technologies
  • Jean Niravong, Professor, Sally Horsfall Eaton School of Nursing
Each received the Outstanding Research Mentor badge:

Outstanding Research Mentor Badge 2015
Outstanding Research Mentor Badge 2015
Industry partners and faculty and staff participated in panels on Shaping the Future with Technology, Shaping the Future for Social Benefit, and Shaping the Future of Students. The student panel that capped the day's event was a real highlight, as the students articulated the innovation literacy skills they have gained through applied research experience.

We were very pleased to honour past, present and upcoming members of our Innovation Advisory Board. The IAB has been providing strategic input and advice to the Research Office since 2008, ensuring our applied research and innovation services can meet the needs of our private and public sector partners. Our IAB members also received a digital badge - see this below.
Digital Bade for our Innovation Advisory Board members
Digital Badge for our Innovation Advisory Board members

Check out the conversation and photos on the Twitter feed from the day via the #gbcgalaxy and the story on the GBC News page.

This is what applied research looks like.

02 June 2015

CICan Annual Conference features Applied Research

The Colleges and Institutes Canada Annual Conference was convened last week in Winnipeg. Applied Research was featured this year at the conference in lieu of a stand alone Applied Research symposium, as has been past practice. This was a great way to showcase how much applied research is core to Canada's colleges, polytechnics and institutes. CICan released a document entitled  Partnerships for Industry Innovation that showcases the scope of applied research now being conducted across Canada. There is much to be celebrated here in terms of how colleges foster industry innovation while teaching key innovation literacy skills to our students.

And speaking of students, GBC Research convened two panels - one on the student experience and another on applied research metrics. I was to moderate these but unfortunately was not able to make the trip. Dawn Davidson, Director of Research and GBC, moderated the first panel; Bert van den Berg of NSERC took over the second.  

The panel on the student experience in applied research was called "This is what applied research looks like: From the student experience to skills" and featured the following:
  • Jean Niravong, a graduate of the Chef School who worked on many projects with an emphasis on healthy food, and an instructor at the College;
  • Miyoko Oikawa, is a current student in the Bachelor of Technology – Construction Management and a key member of the ARGILE research team, conducting research on building envelopes; and 
  • Lisa Govia, a graduate of the Business Analyst program, and recent key member of the project management team in the research office, now at Royal Bank.

The focus of the discussion was on the two key outputs of College applied research : we help our partners to innovate, while giving students key skills and innovation literacy. These skills help students apply knowledge learned in programs leading to greater innovation capacity in their careers. The three graduates/students spoke eloquently about what they gained from this experience and what it has meant to their careers.

The second panel was on "Applied Research Metrics, Measurement and Evaluation" and featured Dawn Davidson, George Brown College, Mark Hoddenbagh, Algonquin College, and Sherrill McCall, Cambrian College. The purpose of the panel was to address Strategic Mandate Agreements recently mandated by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. These SMAs include metrics for evaluating applied research. It is recognized that it would be useful to have common metrics for the college system. This panel discussed how best to measure outcomes at the provincial level, and what these measures mean to our stakeholders.
Here is the longer abstract created for the discussion:
The refinement and continued development of applied research at Canadian Colleges, Institutes and Polytechnics has been further reinforced with the latest federal STI strategy which acknowledges applied research as a key component of the country’s innovation ecosystem. The college approach to applied research fosters industry and social innovation while equipping graduates with innovation skills.

In Ontario the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) recently mandated post-secondary institutions to create Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) in order to enhance the cohesiveness of the Ontario post-secondary institutions, with the goal of creating a system based approach. Included in the SMAs for colleges are metrics for evaluating applied research; universities have metrics for both basic and applied research.  These outcome measures are important to ensuring effective return on investment for public funding into activities either core or ancillary to institutions’ academic mandates.

It is less clear at this juncture that there is a common approach to outcomes measurement for college applied research. Where some institutions feel that cost recovery is imperative, others feel that this detracts from the core academic mission of colleges. Regardless of where one sits on this spectrum, it is important to identify effective college applied research metrics, measurement and evaluation frameworks such that there is agreement in the Ontario system as to how institutions can work together to ensure consistency of experience, be this for students, faculty and staff, and our research partners.
These are important issues of high relevance to the college applied research community. Many of us have been working on these issues for some time, specifically looking at ways to measure both capacity to deliver applied research services and the contributions to the economy these produce. More on this in the days and weeks to come, including exciting developments among the Technology Access Centres, who are cohering around a national network designed to support applied research standards across the country.

The CICan conference as a whole, and the inclusion of applied research, marks a significant milestone in the evolution of the discourse around innovation policy as enacted in our colleges, institutes and polytechnics. I am looking forward to next year's conference in Quebec City.