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SUBMISSION TO HOUSE OF COMMONS STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE

2010 PRE-BUDGET CONSULTATION


Presented by the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering
170 Waller Street, Ottawa, ON K1N 9B9

August 13, 2010

SUMMARY

The Partnership Group recommends that the Government:
• Compete aggressively for global research talent by establishing programs to bring international students to Canada and by providing expanded opportunities for Canadians to study abroad;
• Make data generated from federally funded research freely available online and provide the capacity to ensure data stewardship and preservation in the long term;
• Establish a centre for engineering and technology in the North to support innovation and sovereignty in Canada’s Arctic regions.

Introduction
The world is emerging from the most devastating economic recession since the 1930s. Canada fared better than others, however recovery remains fragile. Investment in research and innovation is crucial to shoring-up the progress that has been made. Continued economic stability and prosperity requires capitalizing on the advantages realized through recent federal stimulus measures with longer-term investments that position Canada as a world leader in research and innovation.

In previous briefs to this committee, the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE) – an association of over 25 professional and scientific organizations representing 50,000 members from academia, industry and government sectors – has emphasized a number of mechanisms to support research and innovation. We stressed in our 2009 submission the importance of matching investments in infrastructure with those in skilled people to drive the innovation economy. PAGSE commends the government for its support to the granting councils (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, NSERC; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, SSHRC; Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CIHR) and other major research facilities such as TRIUMF and GenomeCanada. We also applaud the creation of the Banting postdoctoral fellowship program, which will help attract and support the best minds from around the world to Canada.

Moving forward requires continued support to ensure the health and vigour of our research enterprise. This is readily done through continued support to the granting councils and other national research institutions. Other improvements are also required. We need to focus attention on global issues and compete more aggressively for international talent. We can generate new knowledge and increase productivity by making publicly funded research data openly accessible. We can also lead the world in innovation and technology for severe environments by coordinating and supporting engineering research in the North.

Capitalizing on the International Knowledge Economy
Gains made over the last decade in research and innovation are being threatened on three fronts: changes to our environment that impact our health and economic well being; competition for talent and resources from abroad, especially the emerging economic powers of China, Brazil, and India; and incursions on our sovereignty, particularly in the North. These problems are global in nature and therefore demand an internationally oriented response. Canada must therefore leverage the advantages it has acquired recently in research infrastructure and domestic intellectual capital abroad.

Research talent is the fuel that drives the knowledge economy. The Royal Society in the United Kingdom has put it most bluntly: “Unless we get smarter, we’ll get poorer."1The Canadian government has clearly recognized this fact, as evidenced by recent investments in the Vanier, Banting and Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) programs. However, competition for talent is becoming increasingly intense as the global workforce, especially young people,2 becomes more mobile and developing countries invest in new, large-scale research facilities.3

Competing for talent remains a challenge. Canadian participation in international training programs has been underwhelming, although those who do study abroad tend to return eventually. Canada also competes poorly in recruitment of international graduate students compared to the United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia, despite these countries having similar immigration policies to ours.4 Our ability to provide positions at universities for international students, despite increasing demand,5 is limited by a lack of space and the often prohibitive tuition fees, health care, and other costs that must be incurred.

The solution is simple: capitalize on the increasing mobility of talent and creativity to attract the best minds to Canada and to provide our own students with international opportunities they would not otherwise get. Continued support for existing programs such as the Vanier Scholars and Banting Fellows is key in this regard. Providing supplements to principal investigators that allow them to offset the costs of elevated tuition fees for international students at the Master’s and PhD levels would help increase the pool of highly qualified non-Canadians training in Canada. Together, these actions would be a powerful signal to the international community that Canada is serious about competing for international talent. These investments should be matched by so-called ‘return grants’ which would provide scholarships to Canadian students allowing them to divide their period of study into an abroad phase at an international laboratory or institute and a home phase at a Canadian university or other post-secondary institution.

The advantages of a coordinated international effort are many. The threats to our health and resources coming from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, climate change, energy and water security, and loss of marine resources are global in nature, and so they require an internationally focussed response. The economic advantages should not be underplayed either. The contribution of international students to the Canadian economy is on the order of $6.5 billion annually,6 even before the added value of the increased intellectual capacity for the country, the training opportunities this creates, and the access to international markets represented by having highly skilled expatriates living in Canada.

Recommendation:
That the Government compete aggressively for global research talent by establishing programs to bring international students to Canada and by providing expanded opportunities for Canadians to study abroad.

Enhancing Knowledge Through Access to Publicly Funded Research Data
Science and engineering research generates huge amounts of data that are essential to the well-being of Canadians and play an increasing role in driving research outputs and innovation. Long-term data on air quality and sulphur dioxide emissions collected by federal government scientists, for example, provided the necessary evidence and leverage to negotiate terms favourable to Canada in the 1991 Air Quality Agreement with the United States.

The federal government often pays for the generation of science and engineering data through investments in the federal granting agencies or directly through departmental science activities. Currently, some of that investment is being lost as there are no national standards or policies governing preservation or accessibility of data.7 Too often, data remains on an individual’s hard drive, which means other researchers, industry, and stakeholders lose opportunities to view, reanalyze and get additional value from the data. This could lead to costly duplication of efforts in regenerating data or, in a worst-case scenario, to important information related to the health and safety of Canadians being missed or lost.

Making data freely accessible online will improve Canadian research by speeding up discovery and increasing productivity. Canadian companies will more easily be able to access and use publicly funded data as a “jumping off” point for their own research and development. Freely accessible online data also helps to bridge regional disparities in access to scientific equipment or research grants.

Many Canadian organizations supported by the federal government are already adopting a policy of open and free access to their data. For example, NEPTUNE Canada, the world’s largest cabled seafloor observatory, is developing a data access policy that places few restrictions on data and allows free online real time and archived data access. Some federal departments also provide online public access to data, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) through their Geoscience Data Repository. In the academic sector, CIHR similarly requires that any bioinformatic, atomic and molecular coordinate data generated by CIHR-funded researchers is deposited in the appropriate database immediately upon publication of research results, and that all research papers are freely accessible online within six months of publication.

PAGSE supports these and other steps towards making data freely accessible. However, more needs to be done. Canada is behind competitor countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and the European Union, which all have national data access and sharing policies. Canada needs a comparable national policy on data accessibility and management that contains a commitment to long-term access.

There are costs associated with moving to freely accessible online data. It is necessary to provide stewardship for the data. For ease of use it should be in one or a very few sites, so data will need to be moved, and it then needs to be preserved for decades and keep pace with technology. However, the financial investment is small compared to the rewards; for example, in the United Kingdom, the government expects open data to create £6 billion (C$10 billion) in economic value for that country.8 Canada cannot afford to wait; we have excellent computing capacity, and among the highest levels of government investment in research and development in the world. By unlocking data, we can unlock the potential of those investments.

Recommendation:
That the Government make data generated from federally funded research freely available online and provide the capacity to ensure data stewardship and preservation in the long term.

Infrastructure and Innovation in the North
Northern infrastructure is critically affected by rapid changes in economic and environmental conditions. Federal government objectives for the North are summarized in Canada’s Northern Strategy and the Government has provided welcome support for key elements of the strategy such as ArcticNet (Network of Centres of Excellence), the International Polar Year (terminated in 2009), the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (terminating in 2011) and the Geomapping for Energy and Minerals program (terminating in 2013).

These programs are largely science-centred and further investment along similar lines, especially in regards to climate change, is needed. More investment is needed in technology and engineering for infrastructure development in severe environments, as this is crucial for Northern development. There are at least three substantial challenges.

First, significant gaps exist in our knowledge of extreme environments, including construction technology, transportation technology, communications infrastructure, alternative energy sources for extreme environments and water and sewage systems. Consider this example: During the sovereignty promoting Department of National Defence summer Arctic exercises the increased demand on cell phone and Blackberry connections resulted in the crash of systems for a number of days, even in Iqaluit, the capital, of Nunavut.

Second, there is the possibility of competing interests among stakeholders. The proposal to create a marine park in Lancaster Sound and the proposal to conduct seismic exploration in the same region is a telling example.

Third, educational opportunities designed specifically for the North are weak. Northern engineer accreditation can be obtained with little more than a course or two added to southern curricula, compared to specialized northern engineering programs at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Canada has a wealth of expertise in the areas of engineering and technology necessary for Northern development, although it is somewhat dispersed throughout industry, university and government. Capitalizing on this expertise by bringing together an integrated unit devoted to Arctic engineering and technology infrastructure would be a major step forward towards improving our capacity for innovation and sovereignty in the North. The focus of efforts would be on domains such as building design and construction, road and airfield infrastructure, communications, marine traffic impacts on oceans and wildlife, small port construction, and sealift technologies. Such a centre would contribute to economic development of indigenous people and communities and would form a necessary complement to the proposed High Arctic Research Station. It would also provide a physical and intellectual base to promote innovation and technological sovereignty in the North.

Recommendation:
That the Government establish a centre for engineering and technology in the North to support innovation and sovereignty in Canada’s arctic regions.

Conclusion
Canada should capitalize on recent actions to renew the country’s research and innovation enterprise. Commitments to strengthening our domestic research environment, by making data freely accessible and by capitalizing on our natural advantages in the North to become a world leader in engineering for extreme environments, are crucial. These actions must be matched by a further commitment to tapping the global brain exchange for the benefit of Canada and Canadians. Our ability to lead in the knowledge economy depends on it.

The Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE) is an association of over 25 professional and scientific organizations representing 50,000 members from academia, industry and government sectors. It represents the Canadian science and engineering community to the Government and seeks to advance research and innovation for the benefit of Canadians. PAGSE is not a lobby group, but a cooperative partnership that addresses broad issues of science and engineering policy at the national level.

1 http://royalsociety.org/Innovation/
2Science 328: 17, 2010
3http://royalsociety.org/Global-science-report/
4OECD, Education at a Glance 2006
5http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20071101150549773
6http://www.international.gc.ca/education/assets/pdfs/RKA_IntEd_Report_eng.pdf
7http://data-donnees.gc.ca/eng/about/backgrounder.html
8 http://www.conservatives.com/Policy/Where_we_stand/Technology.aspx