Research Council calls for change

March 18, 2004, vol. 29, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl

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The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's (SSHRC) transformation process is prompting universities across the country to think about research in a new light.

“It's proving to be a provocative initiative and researchers here are taking an active interest,” says Jon Driver, SFU's dean of graduate students and member of the university committee seeking input on the transformation from the SFU community.

SSHRC is undergoing a major shift in its purpose and identity and has called on universities to provide input by May 1.

In response, SFU is holding open forums. Faculty, staff and students can participate in the ongoing discussions during three upcoming events: March 18 and March 29 at the Burnaby campus; and March 30 at the Surrey campus.

The transformation process aims to renew the human sciences in Canada by assessing the changing needs of research. It also coincides with the hiring over the next decade of 20,000 new professors in the human sciences to replace retiring scholars and meet mounting student enrolment.

SSHRC aims to move beyond operating primarily as a granting agency to become a full-fledged knowledge agency that helps establish new connections between researchers and research users and supports research through its full cycle, from development to knowledge utilization.

Driver says discussion so far has been lively and a number of issues have surfaced. “A key issue has been how to make research in the social sciences and humanities accessible and useful to the general public,” he says. “Researchers know the value of their research, but how do we make it relevant in a broader perspective? Even if you take a utilitarian approach, there is a lot of SSHRC research that has an impact on Canadian society. Studies of social policy, literacy, immigration and health are obvious examples. But all one has to do is look at the success of PBS (TV network), or the History and Discovery channels to realize that people are hungry for the results of research on human societies and the arts. Perhaps we need an equivalent of the university industry/liaison office to help professors and students maximize the public impact of their research.”

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