Producers of new knowledge
Dan Breznitz, co-director of the innovation policy lab and Munk Chair of
Innovation Studies, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Canadian universities have done very well,
but they should not tell government that
they are the solution to Canada’s broken
universities have a role to play in fostering innovation but they cannot
be the engine of innovation. They can and should be the producers of new
knowledge; that should be their main goal.
Universities can be places where a lot of research that might eventually become innovation happens. But, they are not the research lab of big
corporations. They can be places where companies might start but then
equally important is acting as partners in innovation with already established firms. They can provide collaborative public space for innovation.
Universities educate the people who technically innovate as well as
the people who can conceptualize innovation. We idolize engineers, but
Steve Jobs was not a great engineer. He had a liberal arts education that
allowed him to understand himself and others and, with a deep technical
knowledge, how human beings could use technology to do certain things.
We need to ensure that social sciences and humanities students graduate
with a better appreciation of technology and innovation: how it happens,
its role in society and how to apply what they know to make technical
things useful by developing them into systems.
Universities should be allowed to use their research capabilities to
address tricky policy questions such as intellectual property rights, incubation and all the rest. They should be judged much more in terms of
their very broad impact on innovation, not by the number of patents they
have or the money they earn in licensing fees. I’d like to see more research
projects that look at that.
Canadian universities have done very well, but they should not be expected to be – nor should they tell government that they are – the solution
to Canada’s broken innovation system. The only thing that will lead to,
besides slightly more budget, is that they will be responsible for a role they
are ill-equipped to fulfil and will fail at – and then there will be a political
backlash. I think we promise too much already.
From start-ups to scaling up
Micheál Kelly, dean, Lazaridis School of Business and Economics,
Wilfrid Laurier University
Having built the science infrastructure,
we now have to complement that with
business experience and acumen.”
the end goal of our innovation policy should be the creation of globally
competitive, Canadian technology companies that compete on the basis
When you talk to universities about what they are doing to foster innovation, generally you hear a lot about innovation research and development, academic research, the commercialization of research, nurturing
entrepreneurship and the start-up culture. We need to take it further.
Start-ups can’t be the end game. They really don’t create jobs; they
churn jobs. Our business school feels our focus needs to be on the challenges companies face as they scale up, grow and try to become globally
competitive. These are management issues, not technology issues. Our
Lazaridis Institute for the Management of Technology Enterprises is
launching a program this November aimed at giving C-level executives
of promising Canadian start-up companies the skills and insights to build
their businesses to a global scale. It will be taught by experts who have
done it themselves and we plan to take what we learn from that program
and integrate some of it into our regular business school offerings.
Innovation policy is not just about the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. Business schools have to be seen as
an important part of the mix. Along with that, universities need to pay
attention to the complementarity between their science and engineering programs and their business programs. The crosswalks aren’t always
well-established, but they are important. Universities are still the prime
source of research and development in this country and there is some
really interesting stuff coming out of universities. Having built the science
infrastructure, we now have to complement that with business experience
and acumen if we’re really going to grow these companies here, in Canada,
to provide employment opportunities and create wealth.