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CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 2002

Long-Awaited Innovation Strategy Disappointingly Vague

The federal government's long-delayed white paper on innovation and skills training was released Feb. 12, but critics say it is disappointingly vague on details.

The white paper, divided into two parts and coauthored by Industry Canada and Human Resources Development Canada, calls on the federal government to boost research and development and to ensure greater accessibility to post-secondary education, but offers few details on how to achieve these goals.

"It is time to push our efforts to new level, to challenge Canadians with ambitious targets, and then work together to achieve them," Industry Minister Allan Rock said at a brief news conference in Toronto. "Government cannot achieve this goal alone. We must build on the growing consensus among business leaders, entrepreneurs, unions, academics and all levels of government that Canada's future success depends on our ability to innovate in all sectors of the economy, and in all regions of the country."

CAUT says it welcomes the opportunity to discuss the issues raised in the two papers, but is surprised by the lack of new ideas or proposals.

"For two documents that are supposed to form the basis for the government's major agenda over the next decade, there's not much substance," said CAUT president Tom Booth. "There are a lot of recycled announcements and self-congratulatory remarks, but little fresh thinking."

He noted the proposals in the innovation strategy to foster the commercialization of university research are the same ones that have circulated in government for the past 10 years and were rejected by university researchers as compromising the integrity and independence of their work.

"There is a real danger the commercialization agenda will steer university research in ways that will not serve the public interest," Booth said.

The innovation paper warns "universities need to be held more accountable for reporting on the benefits that accrue to Canadians from the very substantial annual public investment in research." Booth says this raises a serious concern that new funding initiatives may be directly tied to narrowly-defined commercialization performance outcomes, a point underlined later in the paper with the statement that in return for greater commercialization efforts, individual universities would receive a "long-term government commitment to their knowledge infrastructure."

"Some of the best university research often has little immediate commercial returns," Booth explained. "We'd be very concerned if funding was tied to commercial outcomes."

He says CAUT is pleased the innovation strategy recognizes there are serious problems facing post-secondary education, including growing concerns about accessibility and costs. However, the paper remains silent on how to grapple with this problem.

"This isn't rocket science. The reason many qualified people do not go to college and university is because of the soaring cost of tuition," Booth said. "Yet the paper fails to mention the problem of rising tuition. Until there is some action there, this issue isn't going to go away, it's going to get worse."

The skills paper also suggests accessibility to post-secondary education can be enhanced through e-learning which can "play a role in helping institutions manage growing enrolment pressures."

In addition, the innovation strategy promises to increase the number of graduate students by 5 per cent per year over the next 10 years, a goal to be partly met by the recent creation of the Trudeau Fund to provide doctoral scholarships and post-doctorate fellowships in the arts and humanities.

Booth said the fund, named after former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, is welcome but it will provide funding to only 50 students a year.

"If you really want to increase the capacity of universities and colleges to teach and to conduct research, the best thing you could do would be to increase core funding to our institutions," he said.

Canada's Innovation Strategy, Achieving Excellence and Knowledge Matters, is available at