Dr. Tom Brzustowski
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
350 Albert Street
Ottawa ON, K1A 1H5
Dear Dr. Brzustowski,
Kaufman Thomas and Associates (KTA) is pleased to present you with the following report emerging from the regional workshops that we facilitated in May and June 2002. The report reflects the rich inventory of ideas and suggestions offered by over 300 diverse stakeholders who attended the sessions. Together, they paint a remarkably consistent picture of the barriers and opportunities that must be addressed if the number of NSE HQP is to grow in any significant way by 2010.
NSERC challenged its stakeholder community to identify how it could adjust its policies and programs to meet the expected demands for NSE HQP by 2010. We believe that the community has responded in a strong and positive way. It has given NSERC a clear mandate for action, an impressive list of concrete suggestions and a menu of opportunities for NSERC to consider that lie at the edges of its mandate.
If you have any questions about the report, please feel free to contact us to discuss further.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be a part of this initiative.
Kaufman Thomas and Associates
In February 2002, the federal government launched Canada’s Innovation Strategy. The strategy challenges Canada to rise to among the top 5 countries in the world in terms of research and development (R&D) spending per capita by 2010. Reaching this goal will require significant increases in highly qualified people (HQP) from the natural sciences and engineering (NSE). NSERC has estimated a need for approximately 100,000 additional NSE HQP before the end of the decade.
In May and June 2002, NSERC held five one-day workshops across the country. The workshops invited a diverse group of stakeholders to explore how NSERC could change their policies and programs to help meet the expected demand for NSE HQP. Over 300 people attended these sessions, including graduate students, university and college professors and administrators, industry leaders and public servants from provincial and federal departments and agencies.
The majority of workshop participants agreed with NSERC’s depiction of the magnitude of future demand and stressed the urgent nature of the challenge. This however assumed that industry has the capacity to meet the targets in the Innovation Strategy and in turn generate the associated demand – something that some participants expressed uncertainty about.
Session participants painted a remarkably consistent picture of the challenges and barriers associated with meeting the expected demand. Some of the more pressing challenges that they identified included things such as inadequate institutional capacity (both in university and industry), funding shortfalls for students and professors, problems attracting and retaining highly qualified people, increasing completion times for graduate studies and a lack of coordination between key stakeholders.
Participants suggested a need for broad transformational changes across the system to address these challenges – changes that would involve multiple stakeholders. Focusing stakeholders on a common goal and coordinating their activities was seen as perhaps the greatest challenge in responding to the NSE HQP targets.
As they moved into a discussion about solutions, participants revisited the kinds of NSE HQP that would be required to meet expected future demands. They identified a need for people with a wide variety of training and educational experiences. Furthermore, participants suggested that the NSE HQP of the future would require cross-disciplinary expertise, and skills in areas such as communication, management and business development.
Throughout the session, participants offered a number of concrete suggestions about steps NSERC could take to help increase the numbers of NSE HQP. Some of their suggestions focused on areas where NSERC could take direct action, adjusting its programs, policies and funding levels to attract and retain greater numbers of NSE HQP. There were repeated calls to increase the Undergraduate Student Research Awards, and the number and value of Postgraduate Scholarships, and to provide more internationally competitive research support so that professors could support more graduate students paid from grants. Others focused on areas where NSERC could play an indirect role through influencing or helping to coordinate the actions of others, for example, expanding current science promotion efforts and finding ways to influence K-12 education and improve the quality of science and math education in Canada.
Participants left NSERC with a clear mandate for action, an impressive list of ideas where NSERC can make a difference in the short- and longer-term and an intriguing menu of opportunities for NSERC to consider at the edges of its current mandate. The following report captures the high-level outcomes from this dialogue and in doing so, creates the beginning of a framework for action.
In February 2002, the federal government launched Canada’s Innovation Strategy. Presented in two papers, the strategy establishes goals, milestones and targets to drive economic growth and social development over the next decade through a renewed focus on increasing innovation in Canada.
The Innovation Strategy challenges Canada to rise to among the top 5 countries in the world in terms of research and development (R&D) spending per capita by 2010. NSERC has estimated that private sector R&D spending will need to increase by 20 billion dollars per annum to achieve this goal. NSERC has further concluded that approximately 100,000 additional highly qualified people (HQP) will be required over the next decade to support this magnitude of increased R&D spending. This is in addition to the estimated 20,000 professors, all Ph.D.s, required to replace retiring faculty, 7,000 of whom come from the natural sciences and engineering (NSE); several thousand master's and Ph.D.s needed to replace retiring government scientists and engineers; and an unknown number of replacements for R&D workers retiring from the private sector.1 For planning purposes, NSERC has estimated that this translates into a need to double current NSE graduation rates by 2010.
What can NSERC do to help facilitate this increase? To help answer this question, NSERC held five workshops across Canada in the late spring of 20022 to seek the views of representatives from universities, colleges, industry, government and other stakeholder groups. The workshops were intended to complement and support the larger Innovation Strategy consultation being carried out by Industry Canada.
This report summarizes the key findings and conclusions from the NSERC workshops. It is being circulated to a diverse audience, including workshop participants, Industry Canada and other federal agencies and departments, and Council and Standing Committee members at NSERC. NSERC will be carefully considering the feedback and suggestions shared at the workshops as it develops and implements new policies and programs to respond to the projected increased demand for NSE HQP.
All of the workshops were structured similarly. The morning session focused on the challenges associated with significantly increasing the number of HQP by 2010. Dr. Tom Brzustowski, President of NSERC, opened the sessions with a presentation that established the magnitude of the challenge at hand.3 Two panellists from industry and academia in the region were then invited to discuss the issues and concerns associated with responding to this challenge.4 Following the morning presentations, participants worked in small groups to identify and prioritize the key challenges from their perspectives. The results from the small groups were reported back to the plenary group.
Following a keynote luncheon address by a university president at each location,5 the afternoon session focused on identifying solutions to the challenges that surfaced in the morning. Working in small groups, participants were asked to identify what NSERC could do to address these barriers and significantly increase the number of NSE HQP. Participants reported their findings back to the plenary group and discussed the common themes that emerged. The session facilitator and the President of NSERC closed each session, reflecting on what was heard throughout the day.
The regional workshops attracted a diverse group of over 300 people including graduate students, university/college professors and administrators, industry leaders and representatives from relevant provincial and federal departments and agencies, and other stakeholder groups. There was an encouraging degree of consensus among participants about the challenges and opportunities that NSERC and its partners face in responding to the goals set out in the government’s national innovation strategy.
As a starting point, the vast majority of participants accepted NSERC’s depiction of the magnitude of demand for HQP over the next decade. At the same time, there was an underlying feeling of uncertainty about whether industry had the capacity to meet the larger innovation challenge and thus create the projected demand for people. Participants in Halifax felt that the demand would differ among regions. They felt that the demand in Atlantic Canada for example would be lower than the national average and limited to specific industries. Participants in Calgary highlighted the fact that the demand would be sector specific.
Of particular importance were a number of observations around the kinds of NSE HQP that would be required to meet the projected demands. There was strong agreement that future NSE graduates required the capacity to move beyond one discipline, attaining skills in areas such as communication, management, leadership and business development. There was also agreement that the future demand for NSE HQP would cover a wide spectrum of skills and knowledge. Many participants, most notably from industry, suggested that much of the future NSE HQP demand would be for graduates from bachelor's and master's programs rather than from Ph.D. programs. The fact that many of the HQP needed by industry might not require training to the Ph.D. level makes the challenge more manageable.
There was strong agreement among participants about the need for broad and substantive changes from all sectors associated with NSE HQP supply and demand. Participants continued to emphasize that the scope of change required needed to be transformational in nature; incremental changes would not produce the desired outcomes. There was also strong agreement that greater coordination and collaboration between stakeholders would be necessary. Participants challenged all stakeholders, including NSERC, to demonstrate the leadership and innovation required to make the bold changes necessary.
At the workshops, participants offered suggestions about how NSERC could change its policies, programs, and funding capacity to help universities double graduation rates by 2010. They also challenged NSERC to play a more prominent role in several areas that fall outside of its direct mandate. Recognizing that NSERC as a federal agency is not involved in education which is a provincial matter, participants nevertheless encouraged NSERC to use its influence to help bring about the broad changes across the education system that are required to significantly increase the numbers of HQP in the NSE in Canada.
Much of the discussion at the workshops focused on the university system and its capacity to increase graduation rates in areas of higher demand. This largely reflected the interests and experiences of those participants at the session. Other sources of NSE HQP were mentioned occasionally during the workshops and included individuals trained in technical institutes and colleges, foreign HQP, Canadians returning from abroad and employed and/or unemployed individuals requiring re-training opportunities.
Workshop participants identified a range of challenges and opportunities associated with doubling the graduation rates of HQP in sciences and engineering by 2010. While some of the issues and suggestions that emerged were specific to NSERC, many involved other stakeholders including industry, academia and the provincial and federal governments. Asked to focus on the role that NSERC could play in helping to address the expected NSE HQP challenge, participants identified two main areas.
The first centred on direct actions that NSERC could take to change current programs, policies, and funding levels to increase the numbers of NSE HQP – actions that fell within NSERC’s direct control and mandate. The second focused on indirect actions that NSERC could take to effect change in areas where it has little or no direct control. In the latter case, participants encouraged NSERC to do what it can to influence other stakeholders in the HQP supply pipeline to promote the desired system changes.
The list of challenges and opportunities that emerged from the workshop discussions start to form the elements of a multi-stakeholder strategy to significantly increase NSE HQP over the next decade. This report focuses on those areas where NSERC was identified to play a role. The opportunities and challenges that were raised have been synthesized and grouped below starting with those that were identified by participants as being most urgent and/or top of mind.
Workshop participants, especially those from academia, described universities as “opportunity limited.” They suggested that ongoing funding shortfalls had resulted in a steady decline in physical infrastructure capacity as well as teaching capacity. This has forced institutions to assume larger class sizes, increase teaching loads and decrease lab time for undergraduates in particular. Many felt that the quality of education, particularly at the undergraduate level, had been compromised.
Participants suggested that institutions were at or beyond capacity and thus unable to respond to the expected increased demand in enrolment without further compromising quality. Participants from the college system reiterated this message in particular in the session in Montreal where they identified similar pressures in the CEGEP system. While all participants identified limited institutional capacity as a major barrier to significantly increasing enrolment, the magnitude varied between regions and between program levels, e.g., diploma, bachelor's, and graduate levels. Capacity issues are expected to be compounded over the short term as academic institutions face a substantial increase in the number of retiring professors and, in the case of Ontario, the struggle to manage the double-cohort phenomenon.
Participants also commented on the difficulty academic institutions are having in effectively responding to the changing educational and training needs of NSE HQP. As evidence of this they pointed to the continued emphasis on research / publishing over teaching ability, the inflexibility of current degree requirements and the lack of capacity to teach the types of practical skills required outside academe – skills in areas such as communication, management, strategic thinking. Participants called for a transformative culture change throughout academic institutions to develop and implement programs and policies that more effectively respond to the HQP needs and requirements of the 21st century.
Participants for the most part agreed that resolving the barriers associated with institutional capacity was largely the responsibility of academic institutions and the provincial governments. However, in Vancouver, and in other cities to a lesser degree, it was suggested that NSERC does have a role here in terms of helping to fund and support research. For example, participants suggested that NSERC should increase the number and dollar value of research grants and that the federal government continue to fund the indirect costs of research. Some participants also encouraged NSERC to expand its support to the college system.
Participants also felt that NSERC could play an influencing and advocacy role in this area using its programs and policies to encourage the types of institutional changes required. For example, they suggested that NSERC could tailor its scholarships and fellowships to encourage multidisciplinary study and skill development in areas required outside of academe; offer grants to professors to update their skills and training capacity in areas that have become increasingly relevant to industry, e.g., management and communications training; and establish grants for industry chairs to encourage exchanges between industry and academia and help to ensure that academic institutions remain current in how they prepare NSE HQP for careers outside of academe.
Participants also advocated for NSERC to encourage the federal government to work with other key stakeholders to address institutional capacity issues.
Participants suggested that the escalating costs of higher education for Canadians also limited opportunity to Increase significantly the number of HQP over the next decade. This was particularly an issue for students in the Atlantic Provinces where the average household income falls below the national average. It was also seen as a major barrier to attracting international students who have to pay differential tuition costs, thereby making the cost of education in Canada higher that that of other countries such as the United States.
The funding available to students to help offset the rise in tuition was felt to be inadequate. Furthermore, participants suggested that funding levels in Canada were not competitive on an international scale. Rising tuition costs, funding shortages and the opportunity costs associated with pursuing graduate studies (especially in those fields where the job market is strong), were all felt to negatively affect the attraction and retention of NSE HQP.
Not surprisingly, participants saw this as an area where NSERC could have a significant impact and offered a number of suggestions to NSERC. For example, participants encouraged NSERC to increase the number and associated dollar value of scholarships and fellowships available to students in the NSE. In Montreal, the lunch speaker, Dr. Robert Lacroix, Rector at the Université de Montréal, sparked interesting discussions in the afternoon by suggesting that the size of scholarships to Ph.D. students should be doubled as a priority matter. He indicated that this would significantly and positively impact the perception associated with doing postgraduate work and would decrease the time to completion. He felt this should occur before expanding the number of such scholarships.
Participants also commented on the need to increase the dollar value of research grants and remove the current caps on stipend amounts to enable professors to increase the dollar value of stipends paid to students and/or the number of stipends available. Many academics suggested that given adequate financial support, they had the capacity to oversee more students in the lab.
Participants also encouraged NSERC to develop more innovative and flexible policies and programs to meet the unique needs of an increasingly diverse student body and expand the eligibility pool. For example, they encouraged NSERC to:
Participants identified a number of challenges associated with increasing the supply of NSE HQP in the supply pipeline. Again, this was an area where they felt NSERC could play an important role by using its influence as well as the funding programs to address attraction and retention issues. Key challenges and opportunities affecting the NSE HQP supply pipeline have been identified below.
Participants cited a shortfall in the numbers of university entrants interested in and/or capable of pursuing higher education in science and engineering. This was in part attributed to insufficient training and preparation at the K-12 level due to insufficient equipment, poorly trained teaching staff and inadequate curriculum requirements. It was also attributed to a lack of awareness about the NSE and the associated career opportunities. (See section 3b below.)
Participants identified a range of programs that NSERC could fund to help address shortcomings in the current K-12 system. They suggested, for example, that NSERC make Undergraduate Student Research Awards available to students training in science and math in the teachers colleges. They encouraged NSERC to fund programs to support ongoing professional development for K-12 science and math teachers, e.g., interchange programs with the universities or cooperative educational programs. They also encouraged NSERC to develop funding mechanisms to strengthen NSE research opportunities in the K-12 system by, for example, providing funding for small research projects in high schools. Such funding could be used to improve lab facilities to expand the scope of research and enrich the learning experience.
Participants encourage NSERC and the federal government to work with the provinces to establish strong requirements and standards for the NSE at the K-12 level.
Participants also suggested that colleges and universities seem to be having difficulty attracting and retaining students in the NSE. Many students leaving the K-12 system and entering postsecondary institutions are not interested in pursuing NSE degrees. Participants suggested that this was in part due to misperceptions about the level of difficulty associated with completing a degree in the NSE and about the potential career opportunities that follow.
Those students that do take courses in the NSE at the undergraduate level often fail to pursue advanced degrees in the NSE. Participants identified a number of reasons for poor retention ranging from overly rigorous undergraduate-level pre-screening courses that dissuade good students from continuing to pursue the NSE, to oversized classes that challenge the quality of teaching and support available to students, to inadequate lab time and employment opportunities to enable students to see theory applied.
Again, participants offered a range of suggestions about steps NSERC could take to address this challenge. Many of their suggestions related to promoting the NSE and the associated range of exciting career opportunities. Participants encouraged NSERC to focus its energies on the K-12 level. They identified a number of interesting initiatives to promote and reward interest in the NSE among K-12 students. For example, they encouraged NSERC to consider developing summer research programs for exceptional K-12 students and to make funding available to allow them to take first-year university classes. They suggested that NSERC support funding postsecondary students to come into the classrooms on career days to discuss their experiences in the NSE. They also encouraged NSERC to sponsor science fairs in the schools to promote science more broadly.
Participants also emphasized the importance of better promoting the NSE at the undergraduate level. A large focus was on increasing funding to undergraduate students for research and applied study. Suggestions included expanding the Undergraduate Student Research Awards program (USRA’s) and offering new funding to support undergraduate cooperative education and internship programs. Participants also encouraged NSERC to consider making funding available to develop and support infrastructure to ensure sufficient lab space to develop interest and capacity at the undergraduate level. Related to this was a suggestion that NSERC consider attaching new requirements to research grants that would stipulate the need to provide a certain percentage of stipends to undergraduates.
Participants suggested that Canada is not competitive in its ability to attract international students and skilled immigrants to fill the HQP gap. Reasons identified included high tuition costs and a lack of available funding for international students, restrictions on work visas for international students and their spouses, prohibitive immigration policies and limited recognition of skills and training received in other countries.
Participants encouraged NSERC to develop internationally competitive targeted funding programs to attract international students and skilled immigrants to Canada. They also encouraged NSERC to work with other federal agencies to create a welcoming environment for international students and skilled immigrants by, for example, making changes to restrictive immigration policies.
Participants raised the challenge of finding ways to expand the participation in postsecondary education among under-represented groups, such as unemployed or under-employed individuals, recent immigrants, specific minority groups (e.g. First Nations) and women. Participants felt that Canada was not making full use of its human capital resources. Participants in Calgary talked about the importance of including “moderately qualified” trades people in this mix, while participants in Montreal emphasized the importance of increasing opportunities in the system for people returning from industry to expand or update their expertise. Participants in Vancouver and Montreal added an interesting observation suggesting that Canada fails to look at how retired people could help to fill the HQP gap.
Again, participants focused on the need to increase available funding and develop targeted programs and policies for these groups to encourage participation (See also section 2). Examples included expanding the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Chairs program, starting a similar program for other under-represented groups such as Aboriginals, or inviting retired industry people to act as adjunct professors in the University and College systems to reduce future expected pressures on teaching capacity.
Participants suggested that unfavourable perceptions about the NSE and the lack of awareness about the opportunities associated with careers in the NSE also affect the ability to attract and retain NSE HQP in Canada. The misconceptions about the NSE held by young people and described in section 3b are mirrored across society.
Participants also suggested that misconceptions about the NSE not only affects attraction and retention rates but also negatively affects federal funding, as the public agenda influences the political agenda. At present, there was concern that the general public is not interested in, or aware of, the important contributions made by the NSE sector and the impact that these contributions have on the long-term prosperity and well-being of the nation. Participants commented on the need to raise public support for the NSE to secure the necessary funding to increase NSE HQP to the targeted levels.
Participants in Montreal and Vancouver felt that a fundamental culture change was needed across the country to create an environment that supports and encourages science and engineering. This would provide the framework for fostering careers in science and engineering and would address the negative perceptions that make it difficult to attract and retain the numbers of students needed to meet expected demands.
Raising public awareness about the importance of the NSE was also seen as an area where NSERC should be playing a greater role. The majority of workshop participants were largely unaware of the work that NSERC currently does to promote the NSE and the impacts of the Council’s programs to government officials, politicians and members of the general public. They felt that NSERC needed to make its successes better known.
They also encouraged NSERC to work with the federal government to strengthen positive messages about the NSE and to expand the public’s awareness of the significant contribution that NSE HQP have made to society and our enviable quality of life. They suggested, for example, that NSERC sponsor national advertising and communication campaigns to promote the NSE, making liberal use of mass media including television and the internet to create a more positive and “sexy” image of the NSE. Specific examples included making use of the Heritage Minutes spots to showcase the contributions of the NSE in Canada. Participants in Montreal encouraged NSERC to create a television series based on the popular téléroman québécois model. Special attention should be given to reach audiences at the K-12 level.
Participants also encouraged NSERC to continue to promote the importance of the NSE within the federal system and suggested that NSERC had a critical role to play in ensuring that federal funding required to significantly increase the number of NSE HQP is made available in upcoming budgets.
Participants suggested that the lack of awareness among students, industry professionals and the broader public about NSERC’s programs was also a major barrier to increasing the numbers of NSE HQP. This is in spite of current NSERC marketing and communications efforts. According to participants, the right information is not reaching the right people. Even those in the academic world who regularly work with NSERC found that there were many areas where they were unsure of NSERC’s policies and procedures, and in several instances, they were not aware of certain programs.
This is an area where NSERC’s communication activities should be reviewed. Participants encouraged NSERC to re-think how they position and deliver information. They encouraged NSERC to redesign and expand its marketing and communication initiatives to better reach key audiences in academia and industry, in particular, undergraduate students, professors, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s).
Many participants identified the time to complete advanced degrees as a major barrier to increasing the number of HQP. The vast majority of participants supported anecdotal evidence suggesting time to completion for master's and Ph.D. programs has increased. While this has obvious impacts on the capacity of the HQP pipeline to respond to expected demands, participants felt it also negatively impacted retention rates, especially in areas that have attractive competitive starting salaries such as the high-tech industry.
Some attributed the increasing time to completion to the higher costs of education, which has forced many students to limit their course loads and take on part-time jobs. This was particularly an issue in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. Others suggested that burdensome course requirements and increasing teaching demands were also a contributing factor. For example, participants suggested that many master's programs require a “mini-Ph.D.- thesis” to graduate – a requirement that may be overly onerous and impractical. They also commented on the disincentives from an institutional perspective associated with moving master's and Ph.D. students through the system in a timely fashion as they have become an important pool of lower-cost labour. While participants agreed that completion times should be reduced in some areas, they worried about the potentially negative impacts on quality. Finding the appropriate balance will likely prove to be quite difficult.
Participants suggested that addressing issues associated with the lack of funding to support graduate studies is an area in which NSERC has a significant role to play. They encouraged NSERC to increase funding for graduate students to levels competitive with industry starting salaries. (See also section 2.)
Addressing academic requirements associated with increased time to completion was largely viewed as the responsibility of universities and provincial regulators. This being said, participants encouraged NSERC to consider program incentives that could indirectly influence the structural barriers that impede time to completion. For example, many participants encouraged NSERC to continue to limit funding for master's/Ph.D. candidates to four years. They also encouraged NSERC to consider implementing performance bonuses for students and academics receiving NSERC funding to reward timeliness. For example, students would be given a fixed amount of funding for a particular time. If they completed their degree within the allotted time, they would be given a financial reward. If they completed their degree ahead of schedule, they might also get to keep any scholarship funds that remained. Alternatively, professors awarded research grants might be rewarded for moving graduate students through the system in a timely fashion. There was significant debate about the potentially undesirable impacts associated with these types of incentives, particularly related to maintaining acceptable standards and quality.
Improving the effectiveness of increasing the number of NSE HQP depends on cooperation and coordination amongst the stakeholder community. Participants identified the lack of coordination and collaboration between these stakeholders as a major challenge to meeting the targets set for 2010. At a minimum, this limits the ability to maximize on efficiencies of scale. In the worst-case scenario, it has stakeholders working at cross-purposes with one another. For example, if NSERC endeavours to significantly increase the supply of potential NSE HQP, academic institutions must have the capacity to move them through the system in order to achieve the shared goal of increasing graduation rates for NSE HQP. Alternatively, if academia produces a significant increase in NSE HQP, it must ensure that they meet the skills requirements of industry in order to effectively meet the expected demand. Participants agreed that the tendency to work in silos would greatly limit the magnitude of change that any one partner can make to influence the NSE HQP.
Participants suggested that NSERC could play an important role in expanding communication and coordination between stakeholders, starting within the federal system itself. For example, they encouraged NSERC to take the lead in facilitating greater communication and coordination among the federal granting agencies. They suggested that the agencies could coordinate funding programs, look at joint programs to encourage interdisciplinary study, coordinate marketing and communication initiatives, standardize application processes and unify application refereeing and evaluation processes. Participants also encouraged NSERC to actively participate in the Industry Canada Innovation Strategy consultations.
Participants encouraged NSERC to use its power and position indirectly to help facilitate a stronger relationship between industry, academia and government through encouraging joint initiatives and programming such as the Research Partnership Agreements.
In Halifax, Toronto, and Calgary, participants called for national leadership to bring stakeholders together to develop a national framework to increase NSE HQP – a framework with enough regional flexibility would provide the consistency necessary to better define the long-term picture and to respond to the impending demands. Participants suggested that while NSERC was not the appropriate lead for this sort of national initiative, it did have a role in advocating for such action among its federal counterparts.
A number of participants commented on the challenges associated with the disconnection between the university and industry cultures. Industry leaders were more focused on the development side of R&D. They were looking for shorter-term results. They were also looking for graduates with broad skill sets including communication, technical management, leadership and strategic planning skills – skills that are not being adequately developed within the university system. The academics at the workshops tended to focus more on the research side of R&D and emphasized the benefits associated with a more purist approach to research – ‘’exploration for exploration’s sake.’’ They also defended the value of a more traditional academic path, in particular for those wanting to go into academia.
Harvey Weingarten, the President of the University of Calgary and Jean St. Pierre, the panellist from Ballard Power Systems in Vancouver, both called for a change in the classic model for graduate training encouraging a more contemporary approach. Participants at several of the workshops reiterated this theme and proposed the need for different academic streams for students. For example, a stream for those wishing to work in industry and another stream for those wanting to be associated more closely with academia. Participants also identified the need for more flexible approaches to training, approaches that allow for different requirements for different types of students. An example might be a bimodal master's degree program: with one option that prepares people for research with a traditional thesis based on original research; and another one that prepares people for other technical careers and is based on project work. (Such programs already exist in some universities.)
Participants suggested that NSERC has an important indirect role in helping to bridge the gap and strengthen the relationship between industry and the universities. A number of participants suggested ways that NSERC could use its policies and programs to encourage greater exchange and interaction between industry and academia.
Some of the suggestions offered included expanding the number and value of industry co-ops and internships, increasing opportunities for joint research initiatives that bring people with complementary competencies from industry and academia together, and expanding support to adjunct professors from industry. In Montreal, there was an interesting discussion around the need for large-scale, long-term research projects, perhaps sector-specific, jointly funded by industry, universities and government. Such projects would help to build and maintain lasting relationships between the three stakeholders and keep the lines of communication open.
Industry has a key role to play on the demand side of the NSE HQP supply and demand chain. Participants in a number of sessions expressed concern about whether industry had the capacity and/or will to respond to the targeted increases in R&D funding established in the Innovation Strategy. Without the necessary financial investment, the expected demand for NSE HQP will not materialize. Participants also raised concerns about industry’s capacity to create the type of challenging career opportunities and financial benefits that motivate NSE career choices. Both of these issues were particularly a concern in Atlantic Canada where the existing R&D base is extremely small.
Participants in Vancouver also raised concerns about the number and types of industry receptors in Canada. Does Canada have the right balance to support innovation in the 21st century? Do the current industry receptors match up with the current research interests and outputs? Is there a gap between the government’s agenda, that of industry, and that of the academic community? If so, what impact does this have on the future demand for NSE HQP?
While many of the concerns raised related to industry capacity fall outside the mandate of NSERC, participants again suggested that NSERC could use its programs and policies to help to influence the level and type of R&D investment made by industry. Participants encouraged NSERC to increase industry partnership funding levels and make the eligibility criteria more flexible to help stimulate industry R&D investment and growth. For example, participants encouraged NSERC to make funding opportunities more attractive to SMEs by supporting more smaller projects ($50K range) and recognizing more in-kind contributions. They encouraged NSERC to allow scholarships to be held in industry labs (beyond current program limits). Finally, they suggested that NSERC develop regionally based programs that, for example, cluster funding around strategic nodes that support regional R&D strategies.
Participants also encouraged NSERC to strengthen marketing and communication efforts among industry, in particular SMEs. Many participants felt that industry at large was unaware of NSERC’s programs and the opportunities they create.
To help address gaps in current industry receptors, one group in Vancouver suggested that NSERC fund students to set up their own companies to pursue research in areas/sectors not well represented in Canada. Participants in Halifax suggested that the NSERC-supported entrepreneurship program in the computer science department at Dalhousie was an excellent example of such an initiative.
Participants at all of the workshops grappled with how to define the spectrum of NSE HQP skills required to meet the needs of industry. The majority of representatives from industry commented on the need for a balance of technical backgrounds both in terms of area and level of study. In fact they suggested that the largest demand would likely be for NSE students with bachelor’s degrees followed by master's degrees and finally Ph.D.s. Industry representatives, in particular from SMEs, raised the challenges associated with the large financial commitment required to attract and retain Ph.D.s and the risks associated with being able to support and sustain their research interests over the longer term.
Industry representatives also discussed the need for graduates with interdisciplinary backgrounds, strong communication skills, management, marketing and leadership skills, and the ability to think strategically in an entrepreneurial environment. Finally they commented on the need for balance between a pure academic approach to training and one geared more toward the practical requirements of industry.
Participants in Vancouver talked about the need for what they called “highly effective people (HEP),” people with the skills required to be innovative and effective in the work world. Industry representatives in particular suggested that a significant gap continues to exist between the training received in academic institutions and the skills required in the workforce. This has in turn necessitated significant industry investment in training graduates on things like intellectual property management.
Defining the type of NSE HQP that will be required has clear impacts on how stakeholders best approach meeting the expected demand. In practical terms, this raised an important question: Is the goal to double the number of Ph.D.s, or double the number of postsecondary graduates who are available to industry and/or other research sectors. If it is the latter, the goal of doubling the rate would be, perhaps, more achievable, and more in line with the broad range of innovation-type requirements.
Many of the challenges associated with meeting the longer-term requirements for NSE HQP fall under the jurisdiction of educational institutions and their provincial regulators. Responding to the spectrum of skill sets anticipated would include universities, colleges, CEGEPs and technical training institutions. Industry was also identified as having a role to play in terms of establishing and or continuing to invest in training and skill development programs for employees.
Participants suggested that NSERC could play a role here by realigning its programs and policies to support and encourage the spectrum of NSE HQP that will be required. Participants suggested, for example, that NSERC should consider expanding its programs to students and researchers in colleges, CEGEPs and technical institutes. It also encouraged NSERC to develop programs and eligibility criteria that promote desired skill sets, for example, introducing special awards for students pursuing interdisciplinary studies.
There was a great deal of consensus in comments from workshop participants across Canada. Several specific regional differences were raised and have been captured below.
There were several important regional issues raised in Atlantic Canada worthy of mention. To begin with, as the panellist from industry pointed out, Atlantic Canada supports a very small R&D base. As a result, university-industry partnership funding opportunities are limited. In fact, several participants commented on the difficulty in finding matching industry funds for some NSERC grants. The small R&D sector also negatively impacts opportunities for cooperative education placement and future employment. Statistics continue to show that Atlantic Canada exports its HQP to the rest of Canada. Thus, the first challenge in Atlantic Canada is to strengthen the demand for HQP.
Atlantic Canada also faces significant shortfalls in provincial funding, thus greatly limiting its ability to respond to a demand to increase the production of HQP. It simply lacks the infrastructure and teaching capacity to support the increases in enrolment discussed at the workshop. This is further complicated by the limited number of graduate programs offered in Atlantic Canada – many universities offer undergraduate programming only. Participants characterized their current fiscal situation as worse off than that faced by other regions. They also felt that additional funding from the provincial governments was unlikely. Their concern was further compounded by the fact that Atlantic Canada’s per capita standard of living is lower than the Canadian average – families have fewer resources to support higher education, thus making tuition increases particularly prohibitive.
Several participants suggested that Atlantic Canada must develop its own strategy to cultivate and benefit from the knowledge-based economy. NSERC could facilitate this development through the creation of flexible programs designed to meet the unique needs of this region. For example, if the region decided to focus its growth in several specific areas of the knowledge based economy, NSERC could institute regional funding policies and programs to support this broader strategy.
Participants stressed that in Atlantic Canada, its regional uniqueness limited the effectiveness of a one-size-fits-all approach to increasing the numbers of NSE HQP. They strongly encouraged NSERC to respond to the challenges with flexible programs that could be tailored to meet regional needs.
Ontario, unlike Atlantic Canada, has a strong R&D base to build on. Douglas Barber remarked on a longstanding shortfall in HQP to meet the needs of local industry. The largest problem facing Ontario is a lack of capacity in institutions to produce the kinds of HQP that will be required. Funding shortfalls are the main barrier preventing necessary long-term planning and capacity-building from filling the expected demand. This lack of capacity will be further compounded by the emergence of the double cohort, stretching universities to their breaking point.
At the Calgary session, Harvey Weingarten, the President of the University of Calgary, noted that considering the 2010 timeline, there is currently a lack of urgency with regard to HQP. Participants loudly echoed this concern. They noted that NSERC is quickly moving into a government funding cycle – a cycle in which the federal government has promised to make significant funding available to support the innovation agenda. Participants strongly encouraged NSERC to make the federal government aware of the increased sense of urgency around the need to expand the number of NSE HQP and of the additional dollars required to do this. Over the summer for example, NSERC could concentrate on the indirect costs and ongoing operating costs of research.
B.C. currently has one of the lowest per capita postsecondary graduation rates in Canada and has historically relied on immigration to supply upwards of 50% of the HQP in the province. This is further complicated by the more attractive funding and job opportunities available just south of the border. Participants saw the number of HQP needed to move Canada ahead as a real and important target. There were concerns, however, about the extent to which the provincial government will be able to offer the financial support required to meet this goal. As a result, high expectations or hopes were pinned on NSERC to help fill the gap. It was thus not surprising that a key theme in B.C. centred on the need for NSERC to expand its role as well as its levels and types of funding.
Participants in B.C. also sent a very strong message to NSERC about the need to be more innovative in the way it operates (e.g., who gets funding, how funding is provided, etc.) as well as in what it does (e.g., its role may need to expand to include the identification of skill and knowledge gaps, to focus more on the development side of R&D, and so forth). Another key theme centred on the need for NSERC to do more to communicate and market its role within industry and academia as well as to politicians and the public. As part of getting its message out, there was a strong call for NSERC to play a significant advocacy role to raise the HQP issue in particular within the context of the innovation consultations that are currently under way in Canada.
One of the dominant themes in the Montreal session included the need for a transformational change across all elements of the HQP supply chain to create a new ‘‘scientific culture’’ for the 21st century. Participants in Montreal also strongly emphasized that a number of efforts needed to be directed at popularizing the ‘‘idea of the NSE as a career choice’’ by making liberal use of mass communication tools, for example, creating a television series based on the popular “téléroman québécois” model to reach a large segment of the population.
Participants in Montreal also urged NSERC to consider extending the eligibility criteria for funding to professors and students from the CEGEP system, as components of CEGEP are similar to the first years of undergraduate university programs.
The workshops have provided NSERC with a rich inventory of ideas and suggestions for increasing the number of NSE HQP. Over 300 concerned stakeholders in five regions of the country have described a very consistent picture of the barriers and challenges that need to be addressed if the NSE HQP population is to grow in a significant way. A significant majority of participants agree with the challenge as articulated by Dr. Brzustowski. If a goal of the workshops was to determine the level of support for taking action in this area, we conclude that this goal has been achieved.
Participants went far beyond endorsing a mandate for action. They identified a number of concrete suggestions and proposals where NSERC could make a difference – either through direct action (altering existing programs, policies or funding), or indirectly through influencing or helping to coordinate the efforts of others. In most locations, as the sessions moved towards solutions during the afternoon break-out groups, we heard some participants observe that perhaps they were not generating anything “new” – that NSERC probably has already thought of all these ideas.
In our informal discussions with NSERC officials in the various locations, we did indeed get a sense that many of the suggestions or proposals are ones that NSERC has already had “on the books.” It would be unfortunate, we think, if this observation were to lead to a discounting of the importance of hearing the ideas that have come from such an impressive and extensive cross-section of NSERC’s stakeholder community. The fact that so many ideas have surfaced at first impression, and have been repeated in sessions right across the country is what makes this inventory of solutions and suggestions different.
NSERC has challenged its stakeholder community. We believe that community has responded to the challenge in a strong and positive way. It has given NSERC a mandate for action, an impressive list of ideas where NSERC can make a difference in the short and longer term, and an intriguing menu of opportunities for NSERC to consider at the edges of its mandate around influencing and persuading other players to work to increase NSE HQP in Canada.