As part of the federal government’s pre-budget consultation process, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences is recommending significant investments to strengthen research, experiential learning and Indigenous academic inclusion. Read our full submission here.
Canada depends on a strong research ecosystem to prosper in a fast-changing knowledge economy. Budget 2016 made some important contributions to strengthening that system, and this important work must continue. The Federation believes that by strengthening Canada’s education and research systems, we can produce the new knowledge and talented workforce Canada will need to achieve long-term equitable growth. To succeed, we will need to tackle three key challenges:
1: Ensure a high performing and globally connected Canadian research ecosystem
While Canadian researchers continues to rank highly compared to their international peers, our investments in research have not kept pace. Between 2006 and 2014, Canada has gone from third place to seventh place among OECD nations in terms of spending on R&D in the higher-education sector as a proportion of GDP. We recommend a new multi-year plan that increases funding for un-earmarked discovery research through Canada’s major research councils (SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR), with a long-term goal of returning Canada to its historic third-place position.
This plan should include efforts to better align funding between the agencies. Currently more than half of post-secondary students and full-time faculty work in the humanities and social sciences, but SSHRC receives only 15 percent of total research funding. A new funding program should also include predictable funding increases for the Canadian Foundation for Innovation to ensure the availability of necessary diverse and high quality research infrastructure.
2: Ensure Canadians have the knowledge and skills necessary to fully participate in a dynamic economy
In a fast-changing economy, people’s ability to develop new, relevant skills is crucially important. One of the best ways to encourage this kind of skill development is by creating more experiential-learning opportunities for students, in the form of co-ops, internships and international experiences. Such programs have widespread support, with, for instance, the Business Council of Canada’s Business/Higher Education Roundtable recommending earlier this year that all Canadian post-secondary students benefit from some form of meaningful work-integrated learning before graduation. Universities across Canada have significantly expanded such programs in recent years, but demand continues to outpace supply.
We recommend that the federal government expand the Post-Secondary Industry Partnership and Cooperative Placement Initiative to welcome students from all research disciplines. It is particularly important to expand experiential learning opportunities for students in the humanities and social sciences as they account for more than half of the total post-secondary student population, making them a significant part of Canada’s future workforce.
We also encourage the federal government to increase its support for programs that enable international learning opportunities, such as the Queen Elizabeth Scholars Program. International learning experiences are crucial for promoting the global reach Canada will need in an increasingly connected global economy and for fostering the cultural understanding needed to support our multi-cultural society.
3: Ensure meaningful access to post-secondary institutions for Indigenous students and faculty
Canadian universities have a crucial role to play to support the process of reconciliation and to help improve the socio-economic conditions of Indigenous individuals and communities. There is a pressing need to welcome more Indigenous scholars, students and knowledge in our higher-education system. Universities across the country are responding by creating new programs; however, these will require significant federal support if they are going to have their desired effect. The Federation recommends that the federal government make significant investments in Indigenous researchers at various stages of their careers.
This begins with investments in the K-12 education system to ensure that Indigenous students have an equitable opportunity to access a post-secondary education. There is also a significant need to expand the Post-Secondary Student Support Program, which provides funding for Indigenous students to attend post-secondary schools. Additionally, we recommend targeted support for Indigenous students at the graduate and post-graduate levels to support the development of more Indigenous scholars. And finally, we recommend that the federal government work with the granting councils on programs that will enhance the career opportunities of Indigenous scholars.
Research, skill development and inclusion
The federal government has an important role to play in supporting the research capabilities Canada will need to thrive in a fast-changing knowledge economy. By increasing its investments in research, by supporting skill-development of all our graduates, and by expanding the academic opportunities of Indigenous Canadians, the federal government can help Canada achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth for years to come.