This op-ed was published on the Canadian Science Policy Centre website on March 26, 2019
By Paul Davidson, president, Universities Canada
This year’s federal budget underscores the importance of sustained commitment to universities, recognizing the central role they play in meeting the needs of Canadians.
Budget 2016’s support for postsecondary infrastructure enhanced student education and learning environments through more than 300 funded projects. This was followed by Budget 2017’s focus on innovation—including the establishment of superclusters to help cross-sectoral partnerships advance research from discovery to application. With almost $4 billion for science and research, Budget 2018 made an unprecedented investment in discovery that drives Canadian technology, innovation and prosperity.
Against that backdrop, this year’s focus on skills and talent is entirely appropriate and will help Canadians stay productive and agile at a time characterized by profound technological, economic and social change.
Research shows that half of Canadian jobs will require a major skill shift in the next 10 years and Budget 2019 aims to help more people get the skills and experiences they need to start their career and advance or transform it at any point. The measures promise to leverage the strengths of all players—postsecondary institutions, governments, businesses, civil society—to ensure more Canadians have the opportunities and options they need.
Specifically, and in response to the broad consensus built around the Business Higher Education Roundtable over the last year, Budget 2019 puts Canada on a path to ensuring all students benefit from work-integrated learning (WIL) experiences during their studies. Through government programs and BHER partnerships, an additional 84,000 placements will be added. The Student Work-Integrated Learning Program, which provides employers with extra incentives to recruit underrepresented groups, is now open to all disciplines. This will help more students of the humanities and social sciences take advantage of these important experiential opportunities.
Work-integrated learning programs, like co-ops, internships and practicums provide students with relevant experience, connect them to sectors of the economy, and help them build their professional networks before entering the job market. They also reinforce relationships between universities and businesses and civil society – ensuring curriculum meets the needs of students and employers and the communities we serve.
Also significant for Canada’s future, the budget announced a new International Education Strategy, including more resources for outbound student mobility, which is a critical component of international education.
Like work-integrated learning, international mobility equips students with essential skills sought by employers in an increasingly global marketplace: problem-solving, communication, cultural sensitivity, languages, resilience and adaptability. This was the message of the landmark report, Global Education for Canadians, which argues: “If Canada is to compete in an increasingly interconnected and fast-changing world, our next generation of leaders will need the experience and connections to operate internationally.”
With more than 80 per cent of employers saying that their hires with international study experience enhance their company’s competitiveness, Budget 2019 marks a breakthrough, and will help us compete with Germany, Australia and others.
Budget 2019 also introduced the new Canada Training Benefit—a personalized, portable training benefit to help people plan for and get the training they need. The program, promising $1.7 billion over five years and $586.5 million per year after, opens the door for universities to assert their strengths as hubs of innovation, research, teaching and community service as Canadians prepare for the changing nature of work.
Universities also appreciated budget measures that invest in Indigenous people, their communities and therefore in Canada as a whole, including funding for the Post-Secondary Student Support Program, expanded Artic and northern postsecondary options and additional funding for Indspire bursaries and scholarships.
Building on last year’s historic investment in research, Budget 2019 contains a suite of investments that have bolstered many essential organizations and programs. Importantly, it also promised an investment of $114 million over five years and $26.5 million per year ongoing in the federal granting councils’ Canada Graduate Scholarship program. Seeing as Canada’s proportion of the population with graduate degrees is 26th in the OECD, these investments are critical to building the highly skilled talent Canada needs.
The call for graduate scholarships and fellowship was just one of the many recommendations of The Fundamental Science Review—the most comprehensive review of Canada’s research ecosystem in over 40 years. It offers a long-term road map requiring sustained investment and innovation to ensure Canada remains a global research leader. As attention turns to 2020 and beyond, now is the time to work with colleagues across the research community to revisit its key findings and ensure continued progress is made.
About Universities Canada
Universities Canada is the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, advancing higher education, research and innovation for the benefit of all Canadians.