Office of the President

Andrew Petter, President and Vice-Chancellor

Petter's Perspective: Notes from the President

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Off to Ottawa to rally for research!

January 23, 2012

This week I’m in Ottawa to meet with representatives of government and granting councils to promote a range of SFU research initiatives and to make the case for increased federal investments in university research initiatives.

It might seem counter-intuitive to be seeking such increased investments at a time when the federal government is contemplating budget cuts. But there are good reasons why they make sense from a fiscal as well as a social perspective.

Recent studies show that Canada is a leader among Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in university research productivity.  At the same time, private sector R&D–despite huge government incentives–continues to lag well behind.  The result has been a disturbing drop in business productivity that threatens Canada’s future economic health and, by implication, its fiscal position.

Government’s response to this situation should be not to pour ever more dollars into ineffective business subsidies, but rather to build upon and leverage the success of university-based research.

This can be done through a two-step strategy that first enlarges (or at least maintains) current funding for basic and applied research, and associated research infrastructure; and second, enhances and expands instruments (such as those recommended in the recent Jenkins report) to extend universities’ capacities to mobilize their research and that of private sector enterprises.

Such instruments could include new voucher systems and increased Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) funding to strengthen university-led research incubation, acceleration and translation initiatives, and to support strategic partnerships between university and industry researchers.

Persuading government to embrace such a strategy given current budgetary constraints is likely to be an uphill struggle.  Still, I believe it is worth pursuing.

At SFU, with our new strategic vision that seeks to establish us as “the leading engaged university”–and makes it our goal to be “a world leader in research mobilization building on strong foundation of fundamental research”–we are uniquely well-positioned to advocate such a strategy and, if adopted, to be at the forefront of its implementation.

In addition to the above, my time in Ottawa will include meetings with India’s High Commissioner and China’s Ambassador to discuss initiatives and opportunities arising from my recent visits to those countries.

All in all, I am confident it will be a busy and productive few days in our nation’s capital.

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