Earlier this year, the R&D Review Panel issued a call for submissions from interested parties regarding government support for business- and industry-related R&D. Today the submission papers have been made public.
What a treasure trove of special pleading.
There are more than 250 submissions from industry, academia and government. I sympathize with Tom Jenkins and his fellow panelists who will have to sift through these not-even-thinly-veiled self-interested calls for support.
Clearly, I haven’t had the time (or the stomach) to go through them all, but here’s a couple quick highlights/observations:
- There is a submission by the U15 – Canada’s Fifteen Leading Research Universities. I guess the short-lived and much-maligned “G5” group didn’t cut it, so they’ve let more in. Sorry Guelph and UVic! This is the first I’ve heard about the U15 – anyone else?
- The U15 identifies the keys to improving innovation as more education and collaboration with universities. Quelle surprise!
- That didn’t stop members of the U15 from presenting individual submissions, too. Double-dipping?
- Major industry players have made submissions, including JD Irving, Pratt & Whitney, and Bombardier. These international industry leaders will no doubt be able to provide a global sense of how to nurture innovation and strengthen our economy. What are their suggestions? Well, Irving would like rules to be changed so it can get IRAP funding and access collaborative R&D grants without university collaboration. Pratt & Whitney would like foreign-controlled companies to qualify for greater SRED credits, including for R&D performed outside Canada (not clear how that boosts Canadian innovation…). And Bombardier reminds the panel that its industry has “unique characteristics” that require governments to make exceptional investments to address their R&D needs. Of course it does.
As Stephen Gordon, Université Laval economics professor and blogger/tweeter extraordinaire, tweeted just hours ago in response to an unrelated subject, “Business groups are pro-BUSINESS, not pro-MARKET. Government’s responsibility is to protect latter, not former.” In this case, the sentiment clearly extends to universities and government agencies, too. I hope (and expect) the Review Panel heeds his warning and reminder.
With the federal budget expected to be tabled in two weeks, concerns about research funding are mounting. Despite the government’s repeated claim that it has offered unprecedented support for R&D in this country, calls for deficit-cutting raise the spectre of the slashed research budgets of the Chretien/Martin era.
Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.
This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.
Barack Obama, State of the Union 2011
In last month’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama outlined the challenge and opportunity facing the US – a vision that places research and innovation at the centre of the effort to “[break] the back of this recession [and] win the future”. Obama evokes the early 1960s, when the US poured money into space research after being surprised by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik spacecraft, and suggests such an effort is necessary again for the US to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world”.
I wonder if we’ve got the whole thing wrong.
The fact is: universities don’t produce innovation. For that matter, neither does industrial R&D.
The Globe and Mail has launched a sophisticated series looking at the globalization of education and Canada’s ability to compete. Part of its monthly “Leading Thinkers” series, this month’s edition features video interviews with (among others) UBC president Stephen Toope, Yuen Pau Woo of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, and Governor General (and former principal of McGill and president of Waterloo) David Johnston.
Today, two thought-provoking articles about how to build an innovation economy.
First, a Canadian perspective. Glen Hodgson, Senior VP and Chief Economist at the Conference Board of Canada, has written an article arguing that Canada is at a “tipping point” in our struggles with innovation. He argues. as others have, that Canadian industry’s lack of innovation stems from a lack of need. Our reliance on commodities, soft currency, and anti-competitive business practices led to the establishment of a branch-plant mentality and the generation of managers rather than entrepreneurs (one note: we do generate entrepreneurs, but too many of them head south to American innovation hubs).