This op-ed was published in the Vancouver Sun on June 1, 2017
By Jamie Cassels, chair of Universities Canada’s Research Committee, and president and vice-chancellor of the University of Victoria
This is Canada’s moment. Now is the time for Canada to lead the world in higher education, research and innovation. In an era of closing borders and closing minds, Canada’s universities are reinforcing worldwide connections to ideas, collaborations and expertise. We have the talent, commitment and networks necessary to lead.
The Advisory Panel on Federal Support for Fundamental Science recognizes this strength. In the highly anticipated report released in April, these eminent Canadians called on the federal government to boost support for research and provide the framework to ensure Canada takes its place as an international draw for top minds. We would be wise to follow this advice.
Led by former University of Toronto president David Naylor, the advisory panel recommends enhanced support for Canada’s top researchers to do what they do best: make discoveries that impact lives, strengthen communities and fuel innovation. A vital part of those recommendations is the call for changes that will strengthen international partnerships in discovery and innovation.
The report recognizes that international collaboration is vital to excellence in research. Canadian universities have a strong foundation upon which to build. In increasing numbers, Canadian faculty have studied abroad, building bridges far beyond their own campuses and communities. As a result, they are among the most collaborative in the world. In fact, they are twice as likely as researchers elsewhere to produce jointly authored international work. However, they lack the needed funding to optimize and increase their collaboration, to solve issues of global scale that require the contributions of a wide pool of expertise and talent.
Consider the world’s vast challenges, including poverty, inequality, climate change and disease. These issues do not stop at borders and neither does the pursuit of solutions.
As I wrote in our recently released International Plan at the University of Victoria, it is through leveraging our international partnerships and embracing the diverse ideas, experiences and people who contribute to our campus community that we are tackling these challenges.
For example, UVic is the lead institution on the Borders in Globalization project, an international research program with partners in 20 countries and involving almost 100 universities and non-academic partners from around the world. The project promotes excellence in border studies, helps shape policy and fosters knowledge transfer in order to address globalizing forces of security, trade and migration flows. This helps us to understand the challenges of technologies, self-determination and regionalization around the world that affect borders and borderlands. Such work couldn’t be timelier.
UVic’s ocean research flows to every shore. The world looks here to Ocean Networks Canada for its work in marine observatory science and technology. With more than 40 countries bordering the Pacific Ocean alone, it is a wise investment for Canada to collaborate on deep-sea research to our mutual benefit.
Big discovery happens here in Canada. Just a few years ago, researchers around the world rallied to stop the Ebola virus. The groundbreaking vaccine Zebov was developed in Winnipeg. This was a great moment of pride for Canada, as we were part of the solution to a problem that was vexing the global medical community. As the Naylor report recommends, more support for rapid response to fast-breaking global research needs and opportunities will keep Canada in the game, collaboratively solving humanity’s biggest problems.
The report is a tribute to that contribution and recognizes the need to nurture new Canadian talent. Recommendations for greater coordination, improved communication, increased funding, rebalancing towards investigator-led research and the cultivation of talent point to benefits, not only for post-doctoral scholars and graduate students, but for undergraduates as well. It truly charts a course to develop Canada’s next generation of research talent who will ensure a globally competitive Canada on all fronts over the next 50 years.
This is how Canada will lead the world in creating new knowledge. This is why the best minds will look to us as a place that says science matters. Canada’s universities are willing and ready. We are well positioned to do more.
The Naylor report is thoughtful and solid. Now is the time to move forward on its recommendations, to boost support for research and make Canada an international destination for top minds. The result will be a more inclusive, prosperous and innovative Canada and world.
Tagged: Research and innovation
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