University Research Innovation – Pt1

/ April 30th, 2011/ Posted in University management / No Comments »

University innovation policyIn this series, I report on university research policy for innovation.

University research innovation and research funding – as a matter of economics

What is the orientation of innovation in universities? From one side, it is construed as economics. According to the Canadian Federal Government, innovation is an important key to strive towards an improved economy. In 2009 the Science and Technology Minister of State announced $5 billion investments in S&T, and explained the coordination of the initiative with tax policy, as well as the identification of themes where Canada can excel, such as health care. Innovation is an aspect of economic planning; the necessity of capturing global opportunities and improving Canada’s poor standing among the OECD countries is often cited.

The core dilemma is often characterized as how to move Canada towards greater productivity and competitiveness, and how to form a strong knowledge economy, rather than relying on the traditional resource-based economy. Contributing problems include the demographics of an aging population; poor international standing in PhD graduation rates; the private sector’s disinterest in R&D investment; many firms’ poor orientation towards innovation; brain drain; and competition from emerging global markets.

Critical analysis of  innovation and technology – technology assessment

A complete and critical analysis of Canada’s innovation strategy, and its ultimate implications for Canadian society and standard of living, would have to take into account competing visions for Canada’s economy; the responsibilities of international finance and banking; global geo-politics; patterns of foreign ownership;  international trade arrangements; and immigration. What is usually missing from the mainstream discourse is a critique of de-industrialization of western economies. Michael Hudson’s work is instructive.

University successes are celebrated in having established research activity, through federal funding agencies, across disciplines and through technology clusters. The fragmentation of research funding infrastructure and lack of consistency in and levels of government support have been the target of criticism. Despite improvements in research infrastructure in recent years, the resource capacity is collectively challenged to create, for example, a science policy based on a consistent and comprehensive interpretation of science issues.

Does anyone know where ‘technology assessment’, as a critical analysis of the relationship between technology and society, now stands in Canada? It seems to be construed only as “health technology assessment”. At the National Research Council web site, TA means “testing and validation” in a purely technical sense. Perhaps it has fallen to the researchers in “social innovation” to continue to throw critical light on our scientific and technological choices.

An integrated model of university innovation – social innovation

Humanities and social sciences research on many campuses is often supported in an integrated model, where diverse fields such as technology, design, geographic analysis, and community development collaborate. Social values; ethical ends; as well as fuller public participation in the process of science agenda-setting, and risk assessment, receive some specific attention. But there is a risk of an exacerbated cultural divide in the research community along the lines of natural science (“big science”) as opposed to social concerns.

Recommendations in the mainstream discourse to improve innovation fall roughly into three categories:

A. Government and private sector financial action

1.   encourage the private sector to increase investment levels in R&D and to raise risk capital through tax relief, flow-through shares and government co-investment;
2.   invigorate management talent in financial institutions and build capital pools to resume investment in Canadian firms;
3.   revise the criteria and administration of existing tax-based incentives;

B. University action

4.   re-examine universities’ patenting and knowledge flow policies;
5.   promote higher education and improve graduate-level outcomes;
6.   improve the mechanisms of interaction and collaboration between university research centres, private sector firms and government; grad students and new scholars can function as ‘knowledge transfer specialists’;

C. Firm action

7.   embrace innovation as part of the business strategy;
8.   create a drive to build export capacity;
9.   small-medium size enterprises especially should take up information & communication technologies; better machinery and equipment; and focus on the development of knowledge industries.

Next: Innovation policy – academic literature overview.

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