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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 1996

A New Lobbying Reality

Paul T. Hough

Getting Our Act Together!

There is a new reality on the Ottawa lobby scene which seems to be having a positive impact. CAUT, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) and the National Consortium (NCSES) have been working together to propose specific initiatives to the federal government in support of the shell-shocked research community.

Examples include a big push for university research infrastructure and, most recently, a joint submission to the Commons Finance Committee chaired by Jim Peterson.

We were well received at the Oct. 22 session with the finance committee -- a very different experience from December, 1995. Not only were the government members supportive but so too was the Reform Party, since the ideas we were putting forth were in line with Reform's agenda to maintain or even increase spending on R&D.

Two aspects of the presentation were important. First, there was only one joint brief presented on behalf of CAUT, AUCC and NCSES. Thus, the message presented came from a broad base of organizations that represent university researchers in all areas, as well as significant numbers of scientists in government labs.

In addition to the three groups, the two graduate student organizations and the Humanities and Social Science Federation of Canada (HSSFC) were invited to join our team in the joint presentation.

Several meetings involving all these groups were held prior to the session with the finance committee, and all were supportive of the brief.

Robert Giroux, president of AUCC, made the opening statement on behalf of AUCC, CAUT and NCSES. The two student reps and the executive director of HSSFC followed with short comments of their own, leaving most of the time for questions and discussion.

The second aspect of our approach was to identify specific programs that address real needs within the research community. These include:

  • A new research frontiers program to provide support for promising young faculty members to get established, thereby renewing university staff;
  • Transition awards to provide post-graduates with the means to gain research and work experience outside of the university setting, to broaden their career opportunities and put the private sector in contact with top-flight people;
  • An infrastructure for innovation program to ensure that any new infrastructure program includes a component (20 per cent) for renewal of libraries, databases, up-grading facilities to meet codes and standards, and ensuring that equipment is first-rate and that the technical expertise is available to operate and maintain complex equipment;
  • A university research infrastructure support plan to provide longer term support for infrastructure through programs that match provincial funds to pay the indirect costs associated with the direct costs covered by grants from the three federal research granting agencies;
  • Renewal of the Networks of Centres of Excellence to maintain this premier program in Canada for transferring research outcomes from Canadian universities to the private sector;
  • Enhancing the commercialization of research to enable universities to sustain technology transfer offices that handle the many aspects needed to get research results out into the other sectors; and
  • Community research shops or centres to bring the skills and expertise resident in the universities to bear on the needs and problems within the local communities. This idea is based on a similar program that operates in the Netherlands.

These various proposals all assume that the granting councils also receive stable funding and that ultimately their funds should be restored at least to 1993 levels.

Details of these proposals are in the document prepared for the finance committee called "Putting Knowledge to Work: Sustaining Canada as an Innovation Society." It is available on the AUCC Web site, or from CAUT.

Paul T. Hough is Executive Director, Canadian Federation of Biological Societies and Interim Chair of the National Consortium of Scientific and Educational Societies.