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Canada's Plan to Spur Innovation

12 February 2002 (All day)
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Man with a plan. Canadian Industry Minister Allan Rock unveiled a new national research strategy today.

OTTAWA--Canadian scientists are wondering if the rhetoric will match the reality in a new 10-year research innovation plan unveiled here today. The plan reaffirms the Canadian government's commitment to double annual R&D spending, to US$9.2 billion, by 2010. It also backs greater commercialization of publicly funded academic research and demands that universities "more aggressively" contribute to industrial innovation if they want more money.

The paper reiterates the government's stated goal of making Canada one of the world's top five R&D performing nations. But that won't happen, says Industry Minister Allan Rock, unless Canadians start to "do everything we now do, smarter." Among the few specifics in the document is a proposal to set up at least 10 Silicon Valley-like "technology clusters" in areas such as biopharmaceuticals, photonics, and nanotechnology. The plan also contains commitments to cover part of indirect research costs at universities and address the growing gap between have and have-not institutions (Science, 1 February, p. 788). The government also pledges to increase the budgets of the nation's three research granting councils (but doesn't specify by how much), to double the number of graduate fellowships awarded by the councils, and to give graduate students a chance to conduct applied research in industrial settings.

But although the additional money would make it easier to deepen the nation's scientific talent pool, the councils and universities will still shoulder much of the responsibility, says Thomas Brzustowski, president of Canada's Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council: "Even if the funding is increased, the granting councils and the universities together have to learn to translate that into accelerated graduation rates of highly qualified personnel."

The long-overdue white paper kicks off 7 months of meetings leading up to a national innovation summit in October. Following the summit, the government will draw up its official plan. "The real test will be, of course, whether the government is prepared to properly fund these initiatives," says Robert Giroux, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

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