One of my motivations for moving to Halifax in 2008 was to work on a particular puzzle in an intriguing setting. Halifax is a city that has a research-intensive university with over 100 researchers in ocean-related science and scholarship, as well as five federal laboratories that are involved in one form or another of ocean science. One of these is situated right on the Dalhousie campus, a stone’s throw away from the university’s oceanography and biology departments. This looked like a golden opportunity to bring government and university science together to do synergistic research.
Since then, I have learned that people in government refer to their research as intramural science and universities’ research as extramural science. People in universities see it just the other way around. Our science and scholarship is internal to us and the government scientists are outsiders. At a time when walls are a hot-button issue south of the border, we might do well to find a new way of thinking about who is inside and who is outside. In fact, there are a number of interesting initiatives where the science walls in Canada are becoming more porous. However, there are others where people are still working to solve their differences and trying to build pathways for collaboration.
A recent article in Research Money (November 9, 2016) describes the major increase in funding to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard that was announced in the 2015 budget. A significant amount of this money will be allocated through a new unit, the Office of Partnership and Collaboration, which will help fund joint projects between DFO and others, including universities. On the other side of the so-called wall in universities, some of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund’s initiatives will involve federal scientists and will provide funding for projects that have scientists from both inside and outside of the university working on them.
This past year, researchers at Dalhousie and many other Canadian universities experienced an equally welcome form of engagement from the government. When the Child and Youth Refugee Research Coalition was formed last year (University Affairs, January 2017), researchers at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and Statistics Canada, stepped in to help by providing much-needed information and some seed funding for building partnerships with German researchers. That mutual involvement will continue as other immigration and refugee research projects get underway.
Germany is a useful example of government sponsored, non-university research institutes with links to universities. The Max Planck, Helmholtz, Fraunhofer and Leibniz institutes, all with different mandates, are often connected to universities or university researchers located in their vicinity. Graduate students working with researchers in these various non-university institutes are granted their degrees through neighboring universities.
The strength of German research is supported by a combination of three pillars: funding for universities from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, or DFG; funding by the federal and state governments to the non-university institutes mentioned above; and a very sizable expenditure on research by industries. The industry funding of research is far larger than the other two sources combined.
Germany started an excellence initiative through the DFG in 2006 that has served as a Fund. It consisted, in part, of funding for graduate schools for the highest level of research training and for clusters of excellence in research. In a number of instances, graduate schools and excellence clusters have involved Max Planck, Helmholtz, Leibniz and Fraunhofer institutes, large businesses and SMEs that are associated with universities in their regions of the country. In the descriptions of the German model of funding that I have read or heard about, the terms extra- and intramural are not used.
As Canada thinks about how to improve research and innovation, we need to take advantage of all researchers in our country – those in our National Research Council laboratories and in our federal science and social science departments, as well as in our universities and industries. We need to find different models and exciting new ways of bringing them into partnerships. The full group of Canadian researchers is the warp and weave of this country’s research fabric.
Let us make that fabric strong by increasing our work together in the common interest of improving the life of our citizens and newcomers.