Skip to main content

Article Category

News

Article available in the folowing languages:

Making knowledge feel at home

An article in the Economist magazine in August highlighted that, while European populations are predicted to decrease over the coming decades, populations in North America are predicted to rise. The article pointed out that larger populations could bring either benefits or dis...

An article in the Economist magazine in August highlighted that, while European populations are predicted to decrease over the coming decades, populations in North America are predicted to rise. The article pointed out that larger populations could bring either benefits or disadvantages. If the population is increasing with more ageing, unskilled people, this will mean higher social security obligations and little benefit to the knowledge base of society. But if the increase comes largely from either a new educated generation or qualified immigrants, the country will almost immediately be better positioned to compete in the global economy. Canada finds itself relatively well positioned. It has a small population by Western developed country standards, lots of living space and a relatively high quality of life. Vancouver, on its west coast, regularly features in surveys as one of the best cities in the world to live in, so attracting talent should be easy. And it would be, but for the fact that it is situated next to the USA. The salaries, infrastructure and prestige found in the USA make it difficult for Canada to attract research staff and, in some cases, to retain its own research staff. Those who spend placements in the USA sometimes do not return. The average age of researchers in Canada is 48, so there is a need to deal with both those who are leaving geographically and those who are leaving through retirement. Canada is now trying to address this problem, by attracting and retaining world class talent. A series of programmes aim to provide a competitive salary and the conditions necessary to ensure that Canada is seen as a viable location to carry out research. Key amongst these programmes is an innovative new initiative entitled the Canada research chairs programme. It was allocated a budget of C$900 million (577 million euro) in 2000 and aims to establish 2000 research chairs in Canadian universities by 2005 filled by some of the best researchers and scientists in the world. Some 532 chairs had already been created by June 2002, 60 of them coming from overseas. The programme recognises that key to attracting and retaining this high level of personnel is provision of sufficient resources, whether this be through salary, infrastructure or staff. The CFI (Canadian foundation for innovation) plays a key role in addressing the infrastructure issue, salaries are inflated to attractive global levels through the chairs initiative and the chairs are encouraged to advance knowledge not just through their own work, but also by coordinating the efforts of other researchers in their areas. The chairs initiative aims to harvest world leaders of both today and tomorrow. There are two tiers in the programme. Tier one is for those who are experienced researchers who are already leaders in their field, with the position being allocated C$1.4 million (900,000 euro) over seven years, renewable. Tier two is for people considered by their peers to be potential world leaders in their field, the position worth C$500,000 (320,000 euro) over five years, renewable once. Most chairs so far accepted have been tier one. The chairs are a major way of bringing in top flight personnel, but an infrastructure already exists in Canadian research which helps create home grown talent. In fact, several main players in Canadian research are realistic about the role they play in priming personnel for leading companies. TRLabs in Calgary is a good example of an institution that has recognised, accepted and almost encouraged this. It works in tandem with mostly major companies who obtain a level of privileges through a membership, which is graded according to how much they pay. The research is applied rather than basic and Professor John McRory of TRLabs is realistic about what they want from the arrangement. 'Uptake by sponsors has been high, but if the subject is sensitive, it is unlikely that they [companies] will bring it to TRLabs,' he says. 'Major companies may have trained people as their joint primary focus, along with the research,' he adds, but points out that these are highly valued in these companies. TRLabs has seen 100 of its researchers and scientists head to ICT firm Nortel in the past seven years. Despite the volatile nature of that sector over that period and the job shedding that the company went through, only two of the TRLabs members were laid off. The unique possibility that TRLabs give students to work without university pressures (no need to publish papers) and without commercial pressures (the more commercially sensitive R&D projects are done in-house by the companies) means that it offers and attractive environment for students. ' It is a great place to be. We have to turn away a lot of students,' says Professor McRory.