The Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE) endorses the overall direction and principles of the Federal Strategy: Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage. It considers the strategy a sound policy statement and applauds the promotion of greater balance between research and development performing sectors. PAGSE also commends the Government for its measures to sustain and improve Canada’s scientific and technological infrastructure through the programs of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the indirect costs of research program and other measures.
The following could be considered in implementation of the Strategy:
• Measures to improve communication across research and development performing sectors;
• Implications of transferring non-regulatory federal government laboratories to university campuses or industry. Transfers could be effected in parallel with increased funding for university-based research;
• Improved data management / archiving;
• Expanded support for fundamental (university-based) research and for indirect costs of research; for work in remote areas, notably the Arctic; and for the vital public service function of federal laboratories;
• Greater support for international research partnerships and programs; possible establishment of a Fund to support Canadian leadership and participation in international science initiatives.
The Partnership Group on Science and Engineering (PAGSE) is an association of over 25 professional and scientific organizations representing 50,000 members from academia, industry and government sectors. It represents the Canadian science and engineering community to the Government and seeks to advance research and innovation for the benefit of Canadians. PAGSE is not a lobby group, but a cooperative partnership that addresses broad issues of science and engineering policy at the national level.
Support for Fundamental Research
While the science and technology (S&T) Strategy correctly seeks to enhance Canada’s “entrepreneurial advantage”, building an environment that encourages private sector investment and the translation of knowledge into commercial applications, PAGSE considers it important that this objective not eclipse the need for basic research: university researchers are key to most basic research. The goal of fundamental research is to advance knowledge and understanding. Practical applications of results may be unknown or speculative; however, applied research depends on a firm foundation of fundamental knowledge and can only flourish when underpinned by basic, curiosity-driven scientific investigation. New information and insights from basic research feed entrepreneurial energy by providing ideas, data and skilled human resources, thereby feeding opportunities for technological progress or market advantage. A strategy aimed at increasing industrial research must include measures to strengthen the scientific base for innovation and new technology.
A Balanced Approach Across Sectors
In Canada, research in different sectors serves unique purposes: public sector research for standards and regulation, public services, policy development and the maintenance of national databases; academic research to advance knowledge, to educate and train, and to provide information for standard setting and policy development; industrial research to develop new products or techniques, streamline processes, adapt to changing or anticipated conditions, advance commercial development and market share. The Science and Technology Strategy needs to promote communication among these sectors, to achieve the objectives of synergy and balance and to ensure the inter-connected research that Canada needs. Actions could include: measures to promote the protection of intellectual property through patents, licensing or other measures; strengthening of logistical support for research in remote regions, such as the Arctic; improved data management (archiving and access); and greater attention to international research partnerships and programs.
Public Sector Participation in R&D
The importance of maintaining independent research capacity in the federal government must not be understated. The public sector serves a unique purpose, performing research for operational purposes, risk management, public security, standard setting, for long term records and other public good. The work may require expensive equipment and infrastructure not available in universities or industry, and involve data archiving arrangements best provided by government. Many private companies rely on good federal and academic resources. PAGSE encourages particular attention be paid to the needs of the public sector and to ensuring that support for this sector is integrated in the S&T strategy.
Private Sector Participation in R&D
Building research capacity in Canadian industry and in the Canadian components of transnational corporations is a long term challenge. It also implies support for fundamental research – the context within which targeted research can flourish. Canada has significant areas of industrial research strength; however most companies have relied on research conducted in Canadian universities, federal departments or industrial laboratories abroad. As a result, many companies lack the culture and structure for well-developed research facilities and personnel and require clear incentives to build this capacity. An important factor in attracting foreign companies to invest in research in Canada is the existence of an outstanding science and technology infrastructure. Tax incentives help ensure that laboratories are up to date, well maintained and have the required technical support. The private sector already benefits from a number of tax advantages, though these have not always succeeded in stimulating industrial R&D: indeed some federal measures for a regulatory environment to stimulate a competitive marketplace have been completely inadequate and could be re-examined.
PAGSE recognizes that private sector companies increasingly collaborate with the public and academic sectors through strategic alliances, research networks and partnerships. Collaborative research among sectors involves sharing of costs (financial leverage) and results, and is often more exploratory than purely industrial work; at the same time, the critical mass achieved, the multidisciplinary approach and the interaction between generators and users of information ensures considerable added value for all parties. Nonetheless, firms often find it harder to capture the benefits of the work and may limit their investments.
Improved synergies are needed between industrial and other R&D performing sectors, to enhance the environment for research within the country and to ensure a sustained supply o skilled personnel from our universities and colleges – innovative people developed through direct participation in research.
University Participation in R&D
Much of Canada’s expertise resides in its universities, where it is unconstrained by government or private sector priorities. The focus of university-led research takes into account trends and needs within a discipline, the interests and expertise of individuals or research collaborators, access to facilities, human resources and support, and the nature and availability of research funding.
Most grants are for five years or less, or tied to institutional priorities, which can limit major, multi-institutional or multi-sectoral initiatives. Support levels must be internationally competitive to attract and retain the best scientists. The academic sector also requires improved support for research overheads/indirect costs: the federal indirect costs formula for university research is tied funding from federal granting councils; it could be expanded to include support for peer-reviewed research from federally-funded foundations.
Transfers of Federal Laboratories
The selective transfer of non-regulatory federal government laboratories to universities and the establishment of industry-led Networks of Centres of Excellence are steps towards greater balance. Laboratory transfers must take appropriate governance and intellectual property measures into account; and must not compromise support for the vital public service function of federal laboratories or the ability of the granting councils and foundations to support university-based research. Consideration must also be given to the consequences for funding agencies and foundations, when faced with funding requests from federal scientists who have been granted adjunct academic status. PAGSE suggests that transfers of laboratories be effected in parallel with increased funding for university-based research.
The establishment of industry-led networks must be accompanied by legislation or tools to encourage private sector investment in R&D and the sharing of intellectual property.
Support for International Work
The S&T strategy correctly identifies “promoting world-class excellence” as a core principle. There is, however, a mismatch between Canada’s international (bilateral) commitments and reputation, and its ability to fully participate in and influence international partnerships and international science programs. Federal departments frequently lack the resources to match the commitment of their partners to negotiated bilateral agreements; this weakens Canada’s desirability as a strategic partner. Fiscal restraints have also affected the ability of many federal departments to support travel, meetings and other costs of partnerships.
PAGSE recommends that implementation of the S&T strategy incorporate support to allow Canada to promote its scientific expertise internationally and to benefit from S&T on the world scene. It proposes an International Opportunities Fund, to empower Canadians to partner on international initiatives for research and technology development.
PAGSE endorses the S&T strategy. Measures are required to develop synergies among R&D performing sectors, to improve the environment for research within the country and to ensure a sustained supply of skilled personnel from our universities and colleges – people trained through direct participation in research. A vigorous research environment within our institutions of higher learning is essential to achieving this goal. Fundamental research serves as the cornerstone of work in all three R&D performing sectors and is a key to successful implementation of the strategy.
Transfers of federal laboratories to universities should be conducted in parallel with increased funding for university-based research and for the vital public service function of federal laboratories.
A balance of support and incentives is required across sectors to achieve / maintain excellence and complementarity, and to encourage a higher level of industrial research. Incentives should be introduced in some areas, including promotion of Canadian leadership and involvement in international science programs and initiatives.
1Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage, 2007, page 55: “… the government will invest $9 million over two years to make Canada a best-in-class regulator…”
2Atkinson, R.D., Expanding the R&D Tax Credit to Drive Innovation, Competitiveness and Prosperity, The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (U.S.), April 2007
3Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage, 2007, page 46: : “The Government of Canada will ensure that is policies and programs inspire and assist Canadians to perform at world-class levels of scientific and technological excellence. (. . .) The government will create an environment of healthy competition to ensure that funding supports the best ideas.”