Canada's New Budget Pushes Greater Ties Between Industry and Academe

March 29, 2012

Canada's new budget, presented by the government on Thursday, pushes for greater ties between industry and higher education and is receiving mixed reactions among academic groups on that point, but there is also some relief that cuts in federal higher-education spending were not as bad as had been feared.

The government is not cutting the money it transfers to the provinces for higher education, but it isn't allowing any extra funds to cover inflation, either. And for students, the budget holds bad news—no relief for those struggling with student-loan debt.

To underline the importance of converting ideas to jobs, the government is increasing spending by as much as $2-billion on research tied to innovation. For example, the finance minister, Jim Flaherty, said the government will provide $37-million "to enhance the granting councils' support for industry-academic research partnership initiatives."

The universities, through their umbrella group, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, say they welcome the overall "strategic investments in research and innovation." The association's president, Paul Davidson, told The Chronicle that "the budget is a clear signal that government recognizes the importance of university research."

The Canadian Association of University Teachers, however, says it's a bad budget for academic science because it neglects basic research. "With this budget, the government turns away from the kind of research that leads to new discoveries in favor of a narrow and short-term commercial agenda," said Jim Turk, the association's executive director. "By linking research only to business interests, the government will stifle rather than promote growth and scientific advancement."

The budget confirms the government's plan to revamp the purpose of the National Research Council, moving it from its historical emphasis on basic research to a mandate to focus on "demand-driven, business-oriented research."

The budget will also put $14-million into a program that helps graduate students obtain work experience through paid internships in private companies. The money will double the current numbers in the program. In addition, the government will continue its various graduate scholarships, the Canada Research Chairs program, and it will allocate $10-million over two years to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research to link Canadians to global research networks.

The budget contains $500-million for the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which pays for advanced research infrastructure on campuses. In addition, it will spend $40-million to support Canada's ultra-high-speed research network, known as Canarie.

There are also a number of direct allocations for specific programs, such as $60-million to Genome Canada to set up a new applied-research competition in human health, $6.5-million over three years for a McMaster University project that evaluates team-based approaches to health care, and $17-million to develop alternative isotope-production technologies.

In addition, the government says it is awaiting the report of an expert panel it set up in last year's budget to advise it on a strategy for international education that will "deepen educational links between Canada and international institutions and contribute to Canada's long-term prosperity."

While the federal spending plan is sure to pass, given the Conservative majority, Ontario, the province with the most universities and colleges, is still wrestling with its budget.

On Monday, the province's minority government offered an austerity blueprint that would scrap $75.4-million worth of study-abroad scholarships and eliminate money for foreign-student recruitment. The proposal would also remove a subsidy to universities for foreign students, which would likely mean the universities would pass on a tuition increase of at least $750 to international students next year.


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