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CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 1999

CAUT Deplores Final Expert Panel Report

A government report is recommending that faculty and student researchers be stripped of ownership of any intellectual property they produce and their discoveries and inventions turned over to the private sector.

Commenting on the final report of the Expert Panel on the Commercialization of University Research, CAUT president Bill Graham maintained that despite some minor cosmetic changes and the promise of more research funding, the document contains the same basic flaws as an earlier draft.

"It employs questionable data and selective anecdotal evidence to buttress claims that universities need to focus primarily on research that can be commercially exploited to turn a quick profit for private firms," Graham said. "If the recommendations of the panel are adopted, they threaten to jeopardize socially and culturally valuable research that may not be profitable, while encouraging research that makes money for the private sector but may be trivial."

Graham noted that research into genetic engineering, for instance, holds out the potential to eradicate diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease in the developing world. However, far greater commercial gains can be made by genetically altering fruits and vegetables so that they have a longer shelf life and more attractive appearance in the supermarkets of the developed world.

"By making the profit motive the number one priority of research," Graham said, "the panel's recommendations would in many cases trivialize university research."

The report, prepared for the Prime Minister's Advisory Council on Science and Technology, further recommends that universities provide greater incentives for faculty, staff and students to engage in research that can be commercially exploited. The report suggests that the prospects of commercial gains arising from research be included in the missions of the federal granting councils and used as a criterion for awarding research grants. As well, the panel urges that researchers whose work shows commercial potential be rewarded in tenure and promotion policies.

"This is a clear infringement on academic freedom and university autonomy," said CAUT executive director Jim Turk. "It would give corporate interests an even greater ability to interfere with university research."

He noted that the panel's recommendations would make the commercial exploitation of research by the private sector a fundamental mission of the university. "Our universities exist to serve the public interest and we must not allow them to be held captive by corporate or any other special interests," he added.

Claiming there is a need to improve the business environment in Canada so private firms can attract and retain the necessary talent and exploit university research discoveries, the report also calls on the government to reduce higher marginal tax rates and extend the $500,000 capital gains exemption to employee share options.

"These recommendations will likely cost the federal treasury hundreds of millions of dollars every year with no evidence of any benefit," warned Graham. "That money could be better spent on badly-needed core university funding."

In response to the report, CAUT has written to Industry Minister John Manley requesting a meeting to discuss its concerns and objections. Insisting the re-port is so fundamentally flawed, CAUT is also pressing the government to refer the whole matter to a new and more broadly representative body.

"Of the nine members of the expert panel, two are university administrators and six are representatives of business," noted Turk.

As part of its broader campaign to raise public awareness about the threats facing Canada's universities and colleges, CAUT will be hosting a conference in Ottawa on the commercialization of post-secondary education from October 29 to 31, 1999.

Copies of the final report can be found at