In­vest­ing in Canada’s fu­ture

Fund­ing in­crease rec­om­men­da­tion ap­plauded by uni­ver­si­ties

Cape Breton Post - - Op-ed - Peter Halpin Guest Shot Peter Halpin is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for the As­so­ci­a­tion of At­lantic Uni­ver­si­ties (AAU). Hid er­mail is: Phalpin@at­lanti­c­u­ni­ver­si­ties.ca

At­lantic Canada’s univer­sity lead­ers strongly sup­port and en­dorse the re­cently re­leased re­port of the Ad­vi­sory Panel on Fed­eral Sup­port for Fun­da­men­tal Sci­ence, “In­vest­ing in Canada’s Fu­ture: Strength­en­ing the Foun­da­tions of Cana­dian Re­search (the Re­port).”

It is com­pre­hen­sive in scope and many of its rec­om­men­da­tions re­flect the point of view of the As­so­ci­a­tion of At­lantic Uni­ver­si­ties (AAU) pre­sented to the ad­vi­sory panel dur­ing its na­tional con­sul­ta­tions.

Our uni­ver­si­ties ap­plaud the panel’s pri­mary rec­om­men­da­tion that an­nual fed­eral spend­ing across its four main re­search-fund­ing agen­cies be in­creased from ap­prox­i­mately $3.5 bil­lion to $4.8 bil­lion (and main­tain a re­bal­anc­ing of fed­eral re­search fund­ing to­wards in­ves­ti­ga­tor-driven re­search projects across the full di­ver­sity of dis­ci­plines and ar­eas).

There is a strong em­pha­sis in the re­port on sup­port­ing early ca­reer re­searchers, as well as recog­ni­tion for ear­lyto-mid-ca­reer re­searchers who fre­quently face many ob­sta­cles in the cur­rent fund­ing sys­tem.

The im­por­tance of this is­sue is well un­der­stood by the Honourable Kirsty Dun­can, Min­is­ter of Sci­ence (a for­mer associate pro­fes­sor of Health Stud­ies). In her re­cent ad­dress to pres­i­dents at Uni­ver­si­ties Canada’s an­nual spring meet­ing, she em­pha­sized the “great po­ten­tial of early ca­reer re­searchers” but the “crit­i­cal need to take ac­tion” on their be­half.

The panel’s rec­om­men­da­tion to bet­ter co­or­di­nate ef­forts, pro­cesses and pro­gram­ming across the ma­jor fed­eral fund­ing agen­cies aligns with our uni­ver­si­ties com­mit­ment to in­ter-in­sti­tu­tional R&D col­lab­o­ra­tion, lo­cally, na­tion­ally, and in­ter­na­tion­ally to fully lever­age the di­ver­sity and vi­tal­ity of the re­search ecosys­tem in our re­gion.

Our com­mit­ment to col­lab­o­ra­tion and co­or­di­na­tion is best demon­strated by Spring­board At­lantic, a univer­sity-led re­search com­mer­cial­iza­tion net­work.

The AAU also agrees with the re­port’s em­pha­sis on the im­por­tance of di­ver­sity and greater eq­uity in the fed­eral fund­ing of re­search with ap­pro­pri­ate fo­cus on the im­por­tant is­sues of gen­der and ca­reer stage di­ver­sity and eq­uity in re­search fund­ing, an op­por­tu­nity re­ferred to by Min­is­ter Dun­can as “in­clu­sive ex­cel­lence.”

It also raised the need for much greater at­ten­tion to In­dige­nous re­search. At­lantic Canada’s uni­ver­si­ties, many lo­cated in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties with long­stand­ing re­la­tion­ships to In­dige­nous and First Na­tions peo­ples, are par­tic­u­larly well po­si­tioned to up­hold the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tions on re­search.

An illustration of that com­mit­ment is the At­lantic Abo­rig­i­nal Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment In­te­grated Re­search Pro­gram (AAEDIRP), a unique part­ner­ship be­tween the 37 mem­ber com­mu­ni­ties of the At­lantic Pol­icy Congress of First Na­tions Chiefs Sec­re­tariat (APCFNC), the Inuit of Labrador, 12 At­lantic Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties, and fed­eral and pro­vin­cial govern­ment fun­ders. AAEDIRP’s core pur­pose is to im­prove the knowl­edge base of At­lantic Abo­rig­i­nal eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in or­der to im­prove the lives of Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples in the re­gion. The re­search ap­proaches com­mu­nity eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment from a broad, holis­tic per­spec­tive based on Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture, lan­guages and di­rec­tion from El­ders.

The re­port also raised con­cerns with the is­sue of un­con­scious bias in peer re­view (a con­cern to smaller uni­ver­si­ties), and rec­om­mends steps to ad­dress this is­sue.

The re­port could have bet­ter ar­tic­u­lated that re­search ex­cel­lence is found in uni­ver­si­ties of all sizes across Canada – an im­por­tant prin­ci­ple for the AAU. Our uni­ver­si­ties strongly sup­port the idea that fun­da­men­tal sci­en­tific re­search in Canada must be a level play­ing field across the coun­try for awarding fund­ing to uni­ver­si­ties re­gard­less of their size. At­lantic Canada’s uni­ver­si­ties are dif­fer­en­ti­ated in their re­spec­tive roles, ca­pac­i­ties and needs in ad­vanc­ing re­search, a core as­pect of ev­ery AAU mem­ber univer­sity’s mis­sion.

Our uni­ver­si­ties are also pleased with the panel’s con­clu­sion that “the re­cent ero­sion of Canada’s re­search com­pet­i­tive­ness ... has been ex­ac­er­bated by a pol­icy shift in favour of new pro­grams that fo­cus re­sources on a lim­ited num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als and in­sti­tu­tions.” We agree with the panel’s sug­ges­tion that these types of pro­grams should be re­viewed to en­sure value for money. The re­port calls for a much stronger re­turn to smaller, cu­rios­ity driven re­search that do not re­quire large match­ing fund com­mit­ments or ex­ten­sive part­ner­ships, which has his­tor­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged our re­gion.

In sum­mary, our uni­ver­si­ties

“Our uni­ver­si­ties strongly sup­port the idea that fun­da­men­tal sci­en­tific re­search in Canada must be a level play­ing field across the coun­try for awarding fund­ing to uni­ver­si­ties re­gard­less of their size.”

be­lieve that if the govern­ment can take the steps to im­ple­ment these rec­om­men­da­tions, the R&D en­ter­prise at all At­lantic Canada’s uni­ver­si­ties and the re­search ecosys­tem in our re­gion will ben­e­fit. It is es­sen­tial that our uni­ver­si­ties se­cure re­gional, na­tional, and in­ter­na­tional in­dus­trial and govern­ment agency sup­port for re­search that leads to com­mer­cial­iza­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­no­va­tion, eco­nomic growth, and so­cial de­vel­op­ment across the re­gion.

At­lantic Canada’s uni­ver­si­ties look for­ward to work­ing with the govern­ment of Canada as it acts upon rec­om­men­da­tions from the re­port to im­prove the fun­da­men­tal re­search en­ter­prise in uni­ver­si­ties of all sizes and in all corners of Canada.

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