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CAUT/ACPPU Bulletin Online



CANADA'S VOICE FOR ACADEMICS

Vol 62 | No 1 | January 2015
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Ottawa recycling old S&T policy, out of touch on research needs

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The updated science, technology & innovation strategy identifies five priority areas where the federal government plans to focus funding: environment & agriculture; health & life sciences; natural resources  & energy; information & communications technologies; & advanced manufacturing. [Mathagraphics / Shutterstock.com]
The updated science, technology & innovation strategy identifies five priority areas where the federal government plans to focus funding: environment & agriculture; health & life sciences; natural resources & energy; information & communications technologies; & advanced manufacturing. [Mathagraphics / Shutterstock.com]
The federal government released its latest science and technology strategy in December, with critics saying it’s just further evidence that Ottawa is out of touch with the real needs of the research community.

“The new strategy is really old wine in new bottles,” said CAUT executive director David Robinson. “There is little new from the first stra­tegy document introduced in 2007. Rather than recognizing and addressing Canada’s weak scientific performance internationally, the Tories are recycling old policy that hasn’t worked.”

The Conservative government’s 2007 strategy marked a major shift away from scientific goals to economic and labour-market priorities. It promised to promote Canada’s “entrepreneurial advantage” by putting the two scientific “pillars” of people and knowledge at the service of businesses. The updated strategy adds a third “new” pillar — innovation.

Seven and a half years later, the overriding focus remains on targeting support for scientific research that first and foremost shows promise of generating new products for the marketplace.

“By virtually all measures, the government’s strategy has been a flop,” said Robinson.

The latest data from Statistics Canada show business research and development decreased by 17.7 per cent between 2006 and 2013. While businesses in OECD countries spend an average of 1.63 per cent of GDP on R&D, in Canada that figure is just 0.88 per cent, down from 1.11 per cent in 2006.

“Factor into this picture the cuts in government funding for research, and the numbers speak for themselves,” said Robinson.

Manufacturing is the only new sector added as a priority research area for funding in the latest science and technology strategy. With half of all manufacturing jobs located in southern Ontario, the seat-rich region is also key to the Conservative government’s 2015 reelection chances.

The Prime Minister also shoehorned details about the previously-announced Canada First Research Excellence Fund in revealing the updated strategy.

The $1.5 billion in university-based research projects promised over the next 10 years will be provided only to the five “priority research areas” identified in the strategy, and that promise “long-term economic advantages for Canada.”

While many details are still unknown, the governance structure of the program is raising some concerns, Robinson said.

Research proposals will have to undergo an unusual multilevel approval process that includes eva­luation by external experts, assessment by review panels, and strategic review by a public-private selection board to determine if proposals meet criteria related to market demand, before being sent for final approval to the fund’s government-appointed steering committee.

“Canada is in need of a new strategy and policy that makes renewed investments in basic research and government science without the risks of political interference,” said Robinson.

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