Global Science Excellence Roundtable

August 26, 2016—Winnipeg, MB
Global Science Excellence
Hosted by Elizabeth Cannon

Area of Focus

To support world-class research excellence from fundamental to applied science.

  • Innovation ecosystems: How do universities build strong partnerships with business? How can they strengthen collaboration? What are universities’ roles in building feedstock for the pipeline to the community? What is working in the ecosystem?
  • Talent: What are the issues and opportunities for government to think about to develop and situate graduates in employment that contributes to the economy? What are emerging trends?
  • Education: How do universities tap into other parts of the higher education ecosystem?
  • Resources: How do universities scale-up ability to transfer knowledge outside of their institutions?


Need to innovate how innovation programs are supported—allow for opportunities to take risk and be inclusive of social innovation; Need increased funding support for research—about 19 per cent of research costs (i.e. indirect costs) are funded in Canada versus approximately 70 per cent in the United States; Need resources to facilitate work-embedded experiential learning for students and interactions between universities, business, non-governmental organizations (NGOs)/public sector; Need to attract more international students and highly qualified people (HQP) as a national priority, using an aggressive and coordinated approach led by a champion in Ottawa.

Summary of Discussion

Fundamental research is the bedrock of any innovation system. Fundamental research involves collaboration not only with industry, but also with non-governmental organizations and the public sector including schools, hospitals and municipalities. Long-term commercialization and innovation potential will come from increased primary research funding. Increased investments by the Tri-Councils are necessary for Canada to be globally competitive in science excellence. Under-grads are increasingly funded by the Tri-Councils and are very important in the future of innovation. Students bring innovation and must be maintained in their life-long learning.

More attention needs to be given to the translation of research, including cluster developments that are inclusive of the social sciences and humanities and are responsive to regional needs. Canada needs to innovate and invest at scale; sub-investments get lesser results. Canadian universities punch above their weight in research and want to excel at translation but this people-intensive activity needs appropriate resources which would be different in each community served.

Australia has invested heavily in international collaboration and has done very well in producing more PhDs; Canada has the opportunity to make huge gains through a more coordinated and aggressive approach to the attraction of international students and highly qualified personnel. Work-embedded experiential learning for students can help address the skills gap.

Key Implementation Considerations/Challenges

Innovation ecosystem: Inclusive economic growth is a necessity and Indigenous Peoples' participation is essential for our economy; universities are positioned well for inclusive growth. Internal culture issues (e.g., promotion and tenure) at institutions can be barriers to innovation and need to adapt to maximize opportunities. Students want skills, great teachers in the classroom and hands-on experience; they are increasingly asking for social innovation opportunities and maker spaces; the majority of first-year students have expectations to become entrepreneurs. Research alliances with industry have shifted so the role of the serial entrepreneur is becoming more important. Industry wants talented labour and supports co-operative programs.

Investments: Government needs to be nimble and flexible in investments given the different universities, industries and communities across Canada. Mechanisms to encourage industries to hire more highly qualified personnel at the Masters and PhD levels are needed. Canada has a lot of small and medium enterprises, of which many have little Research and Development capacity; Canada needs to scale-up companies, building their capacity to invest in university research. Industry demonstrates a "rational apathy" to innovation; a move from Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax credits to more direct instruments to encourage industry Research and Development should be evaluated.

Matching funding: Complexities of the federal system for matching funding has in the past put universities in a crunch situation between their provincial governments and the federal government. The onus for securing matching funding from industry often falls to faculty researchers.

Metrics: Success in innovation used to be measured by patents, revenue from licencing, etc., but now technological innovation is measured by its societal and economic impacts.

Top Ideas/Outcomes

Talent: Identify a champion in Ottawa to lead coordinated and aggressive efforts to attract more international students and highly qualified personnel. Continually build the innovation eco-system infrastructure to attract top quality international students and highly qualified personnel.

Research Funding: Need to be competitive within the Organization for Economic Co-operative and Development (OECD). Needs to cover the full costs of research and be sustained.

Collaboration: Promote and facilitate collaboration between regions, universities and industries across Canada, inclusive of diversities so as to be at the leading edge. Great research technology needs to be framed with the social sciences and humanities.

Brokers and Serial Entrepreneurs: Invest in more Tri-Council infrastructure to support universities' work with industry and their communities. Brokers on the ground (in contrast to the Concierge Service in Ottawa) would create and nurture relationships between universities and companies, non – government organizations and public institutions. Serial entrepreneurs would share their experiences and show students how it is done.

Work-embedded Experiential Learning: Need resources for the time-intensive and costly process of matching students with companies/organizations.

Breakthroughs: Require a separate path (versus that of maker spaces and incubators) for breakthroughs and disruptive changes to create a zone of interaction.

Entrepreneurial Experiences: Create opportunities for entrepreneurial experiences for faculty; reflect on how funding mechanisms work to incent behaviour. A program such as that of the Welcome Trust would incentivize entrepreneurial activities including sabbaticals.

Portfolio Approach to Funding: 1) The Higher Education Funding Council for England approach varies at the local level with different industries. 2) The Enhanced Funding Model (Ohio) supports continuous streams of research and venture capital with government allocation of 50 per cent of funding to research and the remainder to hire serial entrepreneurs, open storefront centres and seed venture capital funds, with resultant deals stimulated three- to five-fold.

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