Investment recognizes universities’ vital role

December 15, 2014
Jamie Cassels, president, UVic

This op-ed was published in the Victoria Times Colonist on December 13, 2014.

By Jamie Cassels, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Victoria 

As the season for university applications in British Columbia approaches, there will be lively conversation around the holiday table. Where to go and what to study takes some thought. There are plenty of choices. But whether to pursue a postsecondary education shouldn’t be a question. It’s never been more important to pursue higher education and it is a terrific time to be a student at any one of B.C.’s fine universities.

Just as universities are incubators for the human talent that our society needs in the years and decades ahead, so are they engines for ideas and innovation through their research mission.

Last Thursday, the prime minister launched the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). It is a transformative investment – $1.5 billion over 10 years – that will enable Canadian universities to excel globally in research areas that create long-term social and economic benefits for Canada. On the same day, the federal government released its updated Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy, which identifies five research priorities that are of strategic importance to Canada.

This new fund – layered on top of existing programs of research support – recognizes the role universities play in the country’s economic well-being. I listened to the prime minister as he articulated the benefits. “This very substantial funding helps our universities attract more top talent in areas identified as national priorities. Then it allows that talent to get to work and undertake the long-term world-class research that will ultimately be the foundation for Canada’s evolving economy,” he said.

B.C.’s universities are well-positioned to make the most of the opportunity and to deliver on it. They are recognized as global leaders in many of the fields identified as priorities, including environment and ocean sciences, clean energy, health and life sciences, information and communications technologies, advanced materials and nanotechnology.

The applications to business in those fields are significant too. The new funding will mean more connections between universities and companies ready to work with new discoveries and compete globally. It’s the type of high-level research that creates vital impact on the lives of Canadians and people around the globe.

The University of Victoria, for example, has experts working on a wide range of sustainable energy systems: from harnessing renewable sources, to managing and mitigating adverse impacts, to inventing and designing entirely new forms of energy.

UVic’s Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) created the world’s first plate-sized ocean observatory – an installation that countries around the world are trying to emulate. It opens the door to global collaboration on everything from earthquakes and tsunamis to climate change and the impact of ambient noise on marine mammals. This contributes to our knowledge and understanding of the world’s oceans as well as global climate systems and stimulates the development of innovative technologies that can be marketed and deployed around the world.

And UVic’s researchers, along with their colleagues at B.C.’s other research universities, are making fundamental contributions to understanding and improving human health.

The new CFREF encourages universities to do more of that ground-breaking research, to create more “Canada Firsts,” promoting discovery and innovation that is the key to individual, social and economic wellbeing for generations of Canadians.

CFREF is based on the principles of open competition and peer review. It supports excellence where it exists across Canada’s universities and it recognizes the need for a long-term commitment. That visionary approach encourages bold and ambitious strategies and allows us to attract and retain top researchers and to foster a new generation of innovation.

Such research intensity benefits our economy and our students. Our researchers already work with business, government, community partners and non-profits looking for better ways to solve and build. We have already seen a dramatic growth in the number of graduate students at our universities; at UVic the number of graduate students has more than doubled since 2000. And all of our students benefit from being educated in a research-intensive environment. After all, they are the innovators, problem solvers and research and business leaders of tomorrow; their creativity will be fundamental to our long-term social and economic prosperity.

When I arrived back on campus last week with the program details in hand, I saw students hard at work finishing assignments and studying for exams, some for the first time. In a few years’ time, with the benefit of this significant new future-focused investment, imagine what they’ll discover.

Tagged:  Research and innovation

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