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College-based research would boost innovation

Leveling the field between colleges and universities will be key to grow innovation.


March 4, 2011
by Matt Powell

OTTAWA—The federal government should recognize Canada’s colleges ability to foster collaborative research between the schools and industry, says the CEO of Polytechnics Canada.

A national association for research-intensive, publicly-funded colleges and institutes of technology presented three suggestions to the federal government as it prepares for the 2011 federal budget, slated to be announced on Mar. 22.

The suggestions are aimed at getting nine of Canada’s biggest colleges involved in the public private partnerships (P3) that foster collaborative research with small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).

The institution’s network includes almost 500,000 students across Canada. The institute wants the government to fund internships and employment programs for college students.

“We need to level the playing field,” says Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson. “If we are going to promote innovation as a key part of commercialization, we need to offer small and medium-sized business the options that colleges have the ability to offer.”

Currently, federal R&D programs have created research silos for universities and colleges, but the institute is adamant that Ottawa should establish a formal mechanism to fund R&D projects that facilitate commercialization and collaboration between universities and colleges. Robinson says this would help industry innovate and create jobs.

“Industry should have entrance and exits points they could choose from instead of being told where to go,” says Robinson. “R&D and innovation require things like product and data testing – the life and blood of what a college is – applied practice.”

Robinson adds colleges are a great place for SMEs to recruit students, offering them practical workplace research experience in exchange for a product prototype or testing an already existing product.

“At a time when dollars are scarce, why would you exclude college students from garnering experience at very little costs to industry,” says Robinson. “We need to let them compete and provide the fullest range of their talents. There are benefits on both sides, and leveling the playing field between college and university research programs will allow that to happen.”