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.”

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