Diversity in research gives Canada competitive advantage

April 9, 2018
News
Two young female researchers working in a lab.

This op-ed was published in the Hill Times on April 9, 2018

By Drs. Ute Kothe, Maura Hanrahan and Mike Mahon

We all look to innovation to drive economic growth and create jobs in Canada. But we need inclusive innovation to achieve our goals – innovation that comes from removing barriers to inclusion and advancing new ideas and solutions from across our population.

And because research fuels innovation, building a more inclusive research ecosystem in Canada is where we need to start.

With Budget 2018, the Government of Canada made important strides in that direction, with unprecedented investments in fundamental research that focus on advancing women in science, supporting young researchers and mobilizing Indigenous knowledge and research.

This is not about diversity versus excellence. This is about ensuring excellence. If we want the best results in research and innovation, we need everyone to have the opportunity to achieve their potential.

Groundbreaking discoveries happen and impactful solutions emerge when different insights, experiences and points of view come to bear on a problem. This is where universities can and should excel. The university mission includes bringing diverse people and ideas together to create and share knowledge. If universities are not on the forefront of diversity, equity and inclusion, who will be?

Last October, Canada’s universities made a commitment to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion on campus and in society through the adoption of seven Inclusive Excellence Principles. Recognizing the importance of measuring and sharing progress on this commitment, universities also signed on to a five-year action plan to track their progress. Budget 2018’s new investments in inclusive research will help universities achieve these goals.

Over the past year, Canada’s research community mobilized and worked together to advocate for transformative reinvestment in the research ecosystem. In our increasingly competitive knowledge economy, Canada cannot afford to leave a generation of young researchers behind. And we can’t afford to allow barriers to women in science, Indigenous-led research and early-career researchers to remain.

The government heard this message – and agreed.

Budget 2018 will invest $925 million more, over five years, in the three federal research granting councils. These funds will support fundamental research that impacts the everyday lives of Canadians, from medical breakthroughs to climate change solutions and shorter commute times.

Another $3.8 million will help develop new ways of doing research with Indigenous communities, including strategies to grow the capacity of Indigenous communities to conduct research and partner with the broader research community.

The University of Lethbridge has important relationships with Indigenous communities in part due to its proximity to the Pikanii and Kainai First Nations, and the fact that the university sits on traditional Blackfoot territory. We welcome the support in Budget 2018 to advance the work of Indigenous researchers and support greater sharing of knowledge and science between universities and Indigenous communities.

Universities must play a key role in unlocking the potential of Indigenous peoples in research. Higher education in Canada will be made stronger with the input and guidance of Indigenous scholars, researchers, innovators and communities.

For example, here at the University of Lethbridge, faculty member Leroy Little Bear made national headlines for his advisory work, which saw a herd of 16 bison–primarily pregnant two-year-olds–relocated from Elk Island National Park to the Panther Valley area in Banff. Thirteen years earlier the idea arose when a graduate student met with Elders and had conversations about the buffalo.

In addition to societal benefits, Canadian universities themselves are strengthened when we nurture diverse, equitable and inclusive campuses. Our universities compete on a global level. If our campuses are diverse, welcoming and inclusive, our ability to attract top talent and creativity from around the world grows.

We all have a responsibility to advance inclusion, diversity and equity in Canada. In doing so we position our communities, business, educational institutions and society for success. And that’s a competitive advantage Canada cannot afford to miss.

Dr. Maura Hanrahan is a Board of Governors Research Chair and Associate Professor in Indigenous Studies at the University of Lethbridge (U of L). Dr. Ute Kothe is an Associate Professor in Biochemistry and an Alberta Innovates Strategic Research Chair at the U of L. Mike Mahon is president of the U of L and Chair of Universities Canada.

Tagged:  Research and innovation

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