Budget a call to action for Canada’s universities

March 25, 2016
Jamie Cassels, president, UVic

The following op-ed was published in the Vancouver Sun on March 25, 2016.

By Prof. Jamie Cassels, president of the University of Victoria and chair of the Research Committee of Universities Canada

The 2016 federal budget provides significant support for Canadian universities. Indeed, it is a call to action for universities to recommit to our mission of improving the lives of our students, our communities and our country through education and research. It offers important investments in research, opportunities for youth, aboriginal education, campus infrastructure, protection of the environment, and promotion of social and economic innovation. We acknowledge the obligation and embrace the challenge laid out in this year’s budget as fundamental to our role, and are ready to act on these priorities for the benefit of Canada and Canadians.

The substantial new investments in research are important for research-intensive universities, like the ones in our province, in a globally competitive environment. The new Post-Secondary Strategic Investment Fund will help attract and retain talent, boost innovation and build the economy by modernizing and enhancing infrastructure for discovery, innovation and learning.

Additional investments of $95 million more per year to the federal granting councils, which support discovery research, is an important first step in putting Canada on the path to globally competitive funding levels and educating our country’s innovators of the future. These investments, the highest amount of new funding for discovery research in a decade, provide universities with the opportunity to create and share knowledge and contribute to innovation and social and economic prosperity.

Tellingly, this is “untargeted” research funding. The willingness to let discovery lead the research process allows for those often unforeseen breakthroughs to occur. This is coupled with a keen awareness that there is another aspect of the role of universities to keep firmly in mind—creating new knowledge for evidence-based policy decisions, assessing impacts on the quality of life for Canadians, and putting new knowledge to work for the benefit of society.

The budget contains further initiatives to ensure that research is mobilized to support social and economic innovation. The more than 800 new Mitacs internships for undergraduate and graduate students will accelerate the flow of knowledge and innovation between universities and out into industry and the private and public sectors. Further federal investments in innovation networks and clusters will support the translation of research into successful and globally competitive companies. And the emphasis on climate, oceans, environment and clean technology aligns with work being done in B.C. and other Canadian universities and promises to accelerate the work we are already doing.

This budget also invests in students. Increases in grants and other forms of financial assistance, especially to students with the greatest need, will enhance access and success for all students, and especially those from under-represented groups. It emphasizes the importance of accurate labour market information and the value of cooperation between post secondary institutions and employers to ensure that students are acquiring skills that will serve them a lifetime, and that open pathways from the classroom to fulfilling opportunities. New funding for co-op education that alternates academic work with paid employment supports the value of hands-on and work-integrated learning for students. This is already a key strength of B.C. universities, but is an area where most Canadian institutions would like to build more opportunities for students.

Aboriginal education is a priority for our universities and a national imperative. The $2.6 billion directed to on-reserve primary and secondary education is an important first step in improving education outcomes for First Nations. This in turn highlights both the obligation and the opportunity that universities and colleges have to increase transitions into post-secondary education, responding even more strongly to the call of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to enhance access and success for Indigenous students. Like many other universities across Canada, UVic has recently reiterated its special obligation to contribute, in this and other ways, to reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples.

All of these investments create a significant obligation on universities to deliver. The federal government is showing trust and confidence in the ability of universities to build a strong future for our country through higher education, research and innovation. We will strive to turn this opportunity into tangible benefits for all Canadians.

Tagged:  Co-ops and internships, Indigenous education, Research and innovation, Study abroad

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