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Canadian research universities are both cause and catalyst in realizing Canada’s enormous potential. As we head into a federal election campaign, there is no better opportunity to articulate a vision for that potential, and to inspire Canadians to think about all we can achieve. There is ample room in the campaign, between difficult conversations about crime and punishment, security and terrorism, and about the painful recovery from the global recession, to talk about the way research universities can help achieve that positive vision for Canada.
How are Canadian research universities relevant during a federal election? After all, education is a provincial responsibility. A party platform promising greater investments in university research is hard to sell as a political “winner”.
Yet there is a compelling narrative that closely connects The U15’s contributions with several important campaign themes common to all of the parties.
Whatever their ideological difference, each party espouses a vision for
Canada’s future that involves:
- a strong economy with greater employment and increased prosperity;
- a vibrant private sector that offers the next generation opportunities for fulfilling careers;
- highly qualified graduates able to seize those opportunities and succeed;
- innovative businesses that will improve and diversify their products and services to compete successfully at home and around the world;
- a nation that attracts the “best and brightest” new citizens from all global regions to help build our future; and
- a country whose major cities are known for their quality of life, enriched by culture and by learning.
During recent meetings with all three parties, the presidents of the research-intensive universities who make up The U15 emphasized the ways our institutions’ vibrancy and strength contribute to realizing that broad national vision for Canada’s growth and success. We pointed out that building on our current role is critically important to turn that broad vision into a reality.
Let’s start with what U15 universities already contribute:
- Our research-intensive universities discover new knowledge, leading to innovative products and services and resulting in economic activity. U15 universities create and nurture the innovation ecosystem that turns brilliant new ideas into better products and services. This brings Canadians both a higher standard of living and a higher quality of life;
- The private sector in Canada, more than elsewhere, relies on universities to carry out the research required to keep them competitive. Canada ranks fifth in the OECD in terms of the relative amount of business research that higher education performs. This, despite of the fact that Canada’s private sector ranks close to the bottom among OECD countries for investments in R&D. Our role in providing private-sector businesses with their “research edge” is therefore crucial;
- The U15’s research and innovation has important international dimensions. For example, we attract to Canada the best students and faculty from around the world. We also enhance Canada’s ability to compete for its share of global markets;
- Our research is increasingly carried out in partnership with the world’s leading universities and research institutes. Canadian scientists and scholars thereby participate in global networks of knowledge and discovery, often including countries with which the Canadian government is working to increase trade;
- In addition, U15 universities are “anchor institutions” in their cities, which are home to more than 60 percent of the Canadian population. We have an economic impact on those cities measured in each case in the billions of dollars every year. Apart from our purely economic impact, we also contribute significantly to the cultural, social and intellectual life of the cities in which U15 institutions reside.
The U15 is encouraging all the political parties to include, in their forthcoming federal election platforms, a recognition of the enormous impact Canada’s research-intensive universities have on the country. We are also reminding all parties that whichever is elected, it is in the public interest for the Canadian government to work in partnership with The U15 to devise ways to keep our research universities healthy and globally competitive.
Key elements in the Canadian research and innovation infrastructure (CFI, CRC’s, CIHR and, more recently CERC’s and CFREF) grew from the close collaboration between The U15 and Canadian governments, past and present. With a renewed partnership that focuses on our national objective of creating an innovative, prosperous society that attracts talented people from around the world and delivers a high quality of life in our urban centres and beyond, our research-intensive universities and the federal government can together create greater economic opportunity for all, and equip Canadians to seize it.