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Universities carry a big R&D load: AUCC report

Research share significantly higher than the average for other OECD countries

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | OCT 24 2008

Canada’s universities are heavyweights in research and development, particularly in terms of the relative load they carry in the country’s overall research effort, according to a new report by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

Momentum: The 2008 report on university research and knowledge mobilization says universities performed about 36 percent of the country’s R&D last year, worth $10.4 billion out of total R&D expenditures of $29 billion. This is significantly above the average of 17 percent of a nation’s share of research that universities conduct in other OECD countries.

The past decade has seen strong growth in research spending by the federal government as an improved fiscal situation and favourable economic conditions led to new funding initiatives.

Yet, there is no room for complacency, says Tom Traves, AUCC board chair and President of Dalhousie University. “The rest of the world is not standing still and the global race for research talent is becoming more and more intense.”

A key measure of a country’s research performance – the GERD to GDP ratio – bears this out. In Canada, gross expenditures on R&D (GERD) were equal to about 1.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007. That is down slightly from a high of 2.1 percent in 2001 and places us 12th among OECD nations and well below the OECD average of 2.25 percent.

What’s more, the European Union has set a GERD target of three percent of GDP by 2010. For Canada to match that, it would need to more than double R&D expenditures to $70 billion annually, notes the Momentum report.

In the current economic climate, with tight fiscal budgets, that prospect is unlikely. Nevertheless, AUCC President Claire Morris argues that for Canada to ensure its long-term prosperity, it must maintain its role as an R&D leader.

“Continued support for research and development at universities – and elsewhere — is essential to keep Canada’s economy strong,” says Ms. Morris. As the Momentum report points out, university research is essential to fostering an innovative economy and creating a highly skilled workforce, both “undeniably major assets for any country,” she says.

This is the second edition of Momentum published by AUCC (the first was published in 2005). The report aims to inform the public and government about the benefits of university research.

A feature of this year’s report is the importance of partnerships in R&D between universities, the private sector, governments, communities and international collaborators.

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