Higher Education Sector Plays a Remarkably Strong Role in Canada’s R&D

A newly released report titled The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012, produced by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), provides “a thorough analysis of the scientific disciplines and technological applications where Canada excels in a global context,” but also a detailed assessment of the role played by the higher education sector in these areas.

An 18-member expert panel established by CCA focused, among others, on research conducted in the not-for-profit, government and higher education sectors. “There is much for Canadians to be proud of,” Panel Chair Dr. Eliot Phillipson said, in an overall outline of the findings: “Canada’s international reputation is strong, science and technology research is robust across the country, and globally we are considered to have world-leading research infrastructure and programs.”

One of the remarkable findings is that Canada’s higher education sector is contributing to research and development (R&D) at a higher level than in other OECD countries. An analysis of gross domestic expenditure on R&D as percentage of GDP indicates that Canada’s post-secondary education sector accounts for 38% of all research and development in the country. This is a much larger figure than the 18 per cent of total R&D in the average OECD country – but in line with Nordic European countries and Israel.

The report points out that although “the amount of R&D performed in the private sector is comparatively low in Canada, businesses fund a significant amount of R&D that is actually performed in the higher education sector [over 8% of all R&D performed in the higher education sector or approximately US $950 million in 2011]. […] This is above average for OECD countries, and is more than double the percentage […] financed by industry in the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Japan, France, and Italy.”

In addition to universities, Canada’s colleges and polytechnics have engaged in recent years in a sustained effort to develop applied science and technology programs, in many cases in cooperation with industry. According to the Association of Canadian Community Colleges and Polytechnics Canada, “in 2009–2010 colleges participated in 158 different research networks in Canada […]. The nine polytechnics in Canada worked with 1,085 industry partners, and across the college system a total of 4,051 companies participated in applied research projects.”

This reveals a very solid position for the country’s higher education sector in the area of research and development, which presents concrete and diverse opportunities for Canadian and international students working in science and technology. Canada proves to be a particularly attractive destination for researchers and for individuals interested in pursuing graduate studies here, although other studies show that it needs to invest additional resources in attracting a larger number of them – given strong competition from other developed countries.

Other key findings within the report include:

“ The six research fields in which Canada excels are: clinical medicine, historical studies, information and communication technologies (ICT), physics and astronomy, psychology and cognitive sciences, and visual and performing arts.

“Canadian science and technology is healthy and growing in both output and impact. With less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, Canada produces 4.1 per cent of the world’s research papers and nearly 5 per cent of the world’s most frequently cited papers.

“In a survey of over 5,000 leading international scientists, Canada’s scientific research enterprise was ranked fourth highest in the world, after the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany.

“Canada is part of a network of international science and technology collaboration that includes the most scientifically advanced countries in the world. Canada is also attracting high-quality researchers from abroad, such that over the past decade there has been a net migration of researchers into the country.

“Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta are the powerhouses of Canadian science and technology, together accounting for 97 per cent of total Canadian output in terms of research papers. These provinces also have the best performance in patent-related measures and the highest per capita numbers of doctoral students, accounting for more than 90 per cent of doctoral graduates in Canada in 2009.”

Building Bridges between Secondary and Post-secondary Education in Ontario and Quebec

“The Enrichment Mini-Courses Program [EMCP] is a unique annual event in the world of Canadian education.” That’s how its organizers start describing this initiative, which allows secondary students from schools in Ontario and Quebec to attend post-secondary institutions for a week. Each May, about 125 mini-courses are offered to nearly 3,000 students from 21 school boards and private schools by instructors at two universities and one college in the Province on Ontario.

The University of Ottawa, Carleton University and La Cité collégiale host each year secondary students from Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec (grades 8-11 in ON and II-V in QC – 13-16 years of age) for 25-hour courses. The mini-courses are offered “in a variety of disciplines, such as information technology, psychology, engineering, journalism, music and law. They are highly interactive; they combine brief presentations, practical exercises, laboratory exercises, group discussions and field expeditions; and they provide an unforgettable learning experience!”

The Desmarais building at the University of Ot...

The Desmarais building at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The University of Ottawa, for instance, is expecting approximately 1,800 students in 2013 and will offer approximately 92 courses (48 in English and 44 in French). Carleton offers courses in English, while La Cité collégiale offers courses in French. Staff and graduate students at these post-secondary institutions are invited each year to submit proposals for mini-courses and are reminded that course “titles and descriptions must be ‘appealing’ to students of the levels [they] wish to reach.”

The students selected need to demonstrate excellent academic performance, yet student “placement is based on a random computerized process that occurs once all the application forms are received. Consequently, the first come – first serve principle does not apply.” Only one course is assigned per student, which they will attend one week long. The course themes are very diverse and cover a wide range of interests.

2012 course titles included: “The F–‐word: Exploring Feminism in Society,” “The Philosopher’s Stone: What Harry Potter, Clark Kent, Buffy, and Captain Kirk Can Teach Us about Philosophy,” “Bippity-Boppity-What? Jumping Down the Rabbit Hole of Classic Disney Movies” (Carleton), “The Holocaust and Europe’s Jews,” “Do You Want Kant and Aristotle as Your Facebook Friends?,” “Relationships and Sexuality 101” (Ottawa), “Découvrir l’animation 3D!” and “L’art culinaire et la gestion hôtelière : un univers savoureux” (La Cité Collégiale).

The program represents an excellent bridge between the secondary and post-secondary worlds in Canada’s two largest provinces. It is equally an investment in post-secondary education and an open invitation to university/college studies from the three post-secondary organizations involved. The latter usually encourage their student guests to take campus tours and explore in more detail their academic offerings.

Establishing such linkages early in a student’s high-school life potentially raises his/her interest in attending university/college upon graduation and increases their likelihood of pursuing post-secondary studies. One of the unintended side effects of the program is that it also assists graduate students and other junior faculty members who act as EMCP instructors in gaining meaningful teaching experience.

EMCP is not a unique program in North America (see Stanford’s High School Summer College and others); other universities and colleges have similar initiatives. This program is however one of Canada’s proven successes – over 50,000 secondary students used it since its inception, in 1981 – and constitutes a model for establishing similar linkages in other parts of the country.

(More information on the Enrichment Mini-Courses Program can be found here.)