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AUCC calls for research funding boost

In its pre-budget submission to the federal government, association puts emphasis on research spending

BY PEGGY BERKOWITZ | SEP 08 2009

Canada’s universities are calling for significant new investments in university research through the three federal granting councils in the lead up to the next federal budget.

Citing “a growing worldwide consensus that countries that invest heavily in education, research and innovation will lead the world in economic and social development,” the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada called for $1.5 billion in new research funding over five years. AUCC also asked for investments in international student recruitment and education for aboriginal students.

In its pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, AUCC said that Canada’s economy is in “a period of profound transition” – coming out of one of the toughest years in memory, with an aging population that will put huge demands on health care and social services.

“Developing the skills, talent, creative and innovative capacity of Canadians is the best way to promote long-term productivity, economic growth, social advancement and prosperity,” it said. AUCC noted that Germany, the United States, Australia and other countries are moving ahead with major investments in university research.

The request for research funding targets four programs: the core budgets of the granting councils; the Indirect Costs Program; a new program to fund 800 postdoctoral fellowships a year for two years; and international research partnerships. AUCC called for $400 million to be invested in each of the first two years and $250 million a year for the next three.

Noting that this year’s $4 billion investment in the Knowledge Infrastructure Program has been very effective as an economic stimulus, André Dulude, AUCC’s vice-president, national affairs, said that further investment in university research and education will have an immediate stimulus effect. But the most important impact will be on Canadians’ ability to innovate, compete and prosper in the long term. “It’s wonderful to have new and renovated labs,” he said. “We also need people to do the research.”

AUCC suggested an international- student recruitment strategy led by the government would help to promote Canada’s universities in targeted markets and help them to compete with other countries, many of which are far ahead. AUCC noted that the number of international students in Canada has been growing steadily over the last 10 years to 76,000 currently.

“However, in the same time frame, competition for this top talent has been increasing and some key competitor countries have taken the lead. For example, there are 2,600 university students from India in Canada, but Australia and the United Kingdom each have almost 10 times that number,” said AUCC. It called for $100 million over five years towards this strategy.

Finally, AUCC asked for federal help to improve education opportunities for aboriginal Canadians, whose level of university-degree attainment is one-third the national average. AUCC asked for $285 million over five years for aboriginal students, university programs and services that support aboriginal students. It also wants a pilot project to facilitate partnerships between universities and aboriginal communities to raise completion rates for K-12 students.

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