This op-ed was published by Waterloo Record on March 29, 2016.
By Franco Vaccarino, president of the University of Guelph
Universities, like governments, must constantly look to the future. Both have real societal needs to meet today, while keeping an eye on the future with all its challenges and potential.
It can be a delicate balance. The new federal government’s first budget walks that line, tackling the country’s immediate need for stimulus spending while trying to look to Canada’s longer-term needs.
In universities, the government sees a partner that can deliver on both.
In tabling his first budget, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said, “We believe that businesses, post-secondary institutions, governments and other stakeholders can work together to accelerate economic growth.”
The investment is big enough to have real impact: $2 billion over three years for a new Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund recognizes the role of universities in driving prosperity and enhancing quality of life for all Canadians.
The government is also changing the channel on support for Canadian research and innovation. The additional $95 million a year to the budgets of the research-granting councils starting in 2016-17 is the highest amount of new annual funding for discovery research in more than a decade. The need for this investment is profound. Budget 2016 moves us in the right direction in returning to the globally competitive research-funding levels Canada needs.
Another substantial economic boost is $800 million to innovation networks and clusters — connections between knowledge producers, such as universities, and users, including businesses. This is a strategic and broad investment in Canada’s innovation ecosystem.
It’s reassuring to see, through these investments, the government’s recognition that innovation doesn’t just happen. You need the right seed corn today to get the economic and societal returns we want down the road.
Why will universities play such an important role in helping this government achieve its goals for Canada? Because universities are a proven partner in delivering short-term economic stimulus and longer-term benefits through education, research and innovation.
When stimulus investments in infrastructure were needed in 2009, Canada’s universities acted quickly and strategically.
With infrastructure funding, the University of Guelph refurbished a 50-year-old building into a teaching and research centre that now serves as a vibrant hub for the School of Environmental Sciences. This $33-million investment stimulated local economic activity while providing researchers with a revamped 130,000-square-foot building for their work on innovations and green technologies in clean air, water and soil. The refurbishment also allowed the university to reduce its deferred-maintenance costs and improve energy efficiency by replacing portables or older greenhouses.
Today we are ready to make infrastructure investments work again for our community and for Canada. We welcome the opportunity to partner with government to improve energy efficiencies and sustainability on campus, as well as improve the quality of learning space for students.
Investments in the infrastructure that supports Canada’s students, researchers and innovators are vital to our future prosperity.
The federal government has brought a new and energizing tone to Canada’s conversation around education, research and innovation. The budget is an important step forward in putting those words into action, and realizing a longer-term vision for prosperity and quality of life for all Canadians.
While government does not directly discover, invent and commercialize, it can put in place the conditions that allow these good things to happen — notably at our universities.
This budget is an opportunity. And it’s up to all of us — students, researchers, community leaders, businesses — to bring this opportunity to life in powerful and forward-looking ways.
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