Reinvestment will make Canada a global research leader

October 17, 2017
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Rhonda Lenton, president, York University.

This oped was published in Policy Options on October 17, 2017

By Rhonda L. Lenton, president of York University

Canada will reclaim its position as a leader in fundamental research if it follows the blueprint laid out in the Naylor report.

The energy on campus in fall is magical, and this year it holds special meaning for me as I begin my first year as president of York University. As university leaders, our job is to ensure that our students have the learning opportunities and support needed to realize their enormous potential. Central to a high-quality, 21st-century education is the opportunity to learn from accomplished researchers from across Canada and around the world.

Top talent at York and at universities across Canada are helping to solve the biggest challenges facing humanity, enhancing quality of life at home and abroad, and developing the next generation of researchers and innovators. But the federal research ecosystem that supports their work needs renewal.

There are signs that we are moving in the right direction. I am heartened that the federal government is working to position Canada as a global research and innovation leader, to attract top talent and prioritize diversity and inclusion.

The excellent work of the expert panel on Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, led by David Naylor, gives us a solid plan to get there. The panel’s April 2017 report provides a blueprint for improving the ecosystem that drives innovation, change and prosperity for Canada. If we get this right, Canada will reclaim its position as a leader in discovery. In the process, outstanding research will do even more to fuel prosperity and drive job creation in communities across the country.

I was encouraged to hear Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan commit this summer to a new coordinating board for our federal research granting councils, a new advisory council on science and innovation, and other governance changes. A matching commitment to funding is the next logical step.

Among the panel’s 35 recommendations, three stand out for early budget action.

The panel has called for sustained increases in direct support for discovery research through the federal granting councils. This is the research that asks why and how. It is research that imagines the unimaginable and leads to breakthroughs and innovation.

The panel also calls for a dedicated support fund for international research collaboration to help Canadian researchers make connections and share knowledge, labs and networks to find solutions to the world’s biggest problems. Challenges such as climate change, refugee resettlement, food security and disease do not stop at international borders, and neither do the solutions. At a time when doors are closing around the world, Canada’s universities are open to ideas from beyond our borders from the best minds, no matter their race, religion or gender. The world is looking to Canada for leadership in inclusive research that improves health, fosters peace and understanding, advances green energy and makes communities stronger. Now is our time to respond.

The third important recommendation calls for support for research infrastructure through the Canada Foundation for Innovation, ensuring that our researchers have the most up-to-date tools, newest technology and best facilities to develop their ideas.

The expert panel emphasized the value of research across disciplines. The challenges of today’s unsettled world remind us of the importance of research excellence in the social sciences. At York University, for example, research into health care experiences, civil justice, corporate social responsibility and income inequality — in addition to transnational issues such as global security, human rights and refugees — is making a profound difference in people’s lives.

As parliamentarians get to work this fall, MPs will know that Canadians are with them when it comes to supporting fundamental research. Recent public opinion polling from Abacus Data finds that 84 percent of Canadians believe university research is vitally important for Canada’s future. And 89 percent believe the best way to ensure that Canada is a leader in innovation is to invest in fundamental science.

We have every reason to be proud of Canada’s universities and the research they undertake. But if we want to be a global leader, it is time to move forward on the financial recommendations of the Fundamental Science Review report. This is Canada’s global moment — let’s not squander it.


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Tagged:  Research and innovation

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