A plea for a united, full-strength
by Martha Crago
ne of my motivations for moving to
Halifax in 2008 was to work on a particular puzzle in an intriguing setting. Halifax
is a city that has a research-intensive university with over 100 researchers in ocean-related science and scholarship, as well as five
federal laboratories that are involved in one form
or another of ocean science. One of these is situated right on the Dalhousie campus, a stone’s
throw away from the university’s oceanography
and biology departments. This looked like a
golden opportunity to bring government and university science together to do synergistic research.
Since then, I have learned that people in government refer to their research as intramural science and universities’ research as extramural
science. People in universities see it just the other
way around. Our science and scholarship is
internal to us and the government scientists are
outsiders. At a time when walls are a hot-button
issue south of the border, we might do well to
find a new way of thinking about who is inside
and who is outside. In fact, there are a number
of interesting initiatives where the science walls
in Canada are becoming more porous. However,
there are others where people are still working
to solve their differences and trying to build
pathways for collaboration.
A recent article in Research Money (November
9, 2016) describes the major increase in funding
to the federal Department of Fisheries and
Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard that was
announced in the 2015 budget. A significant
amount of this money will be allocated through
a new unit, the Office of Partnership and Col-
laboration, which will help fund joint projects
between DFO and others, including universities.
On the other side of the so-called wall in universities, some of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund’s initiatives will involve federal scientists and will provide funding for projects that
have scientists from both inside and outside of
the university working on them.
This past year, researchers at Dalhousie and
many other Canadian universities experienced
an equally welcome form of engagement from
the government. When the Child and Youth Refugee Research Coalition was formed last year
(University Affairs, January 2017), researchers at
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada,
and Statistics Canada, stepped in to help by providing much-needed information and some seed
funding for building partnerships with German
researchers. That mutual involvement will continue as other immigration and refugee research
projects get underway.
Germany is a useful example of government-sponsored, non-university research institutes
with links to universities. The Max Planck,
Helmholtz, Fraunhofer and Leibniz institutes,
all with different mandates, are often connected
to universities or university researchers located
in their vicinity. Graduate students working with
researchers in these various non-university institutes are granted their degrees through neighboring universities.
The strength of German research is sup-
ported by a combination of three pillars: funding
for universities from the Deutsche Forschungsge-
meinschaft, or DFG; funding by the federal and
state governments to the non-university insti-
tutes mentioned above; and a very sizable expen-
diture on research by industries. The industry
funding of research is far larger than the other
two sources combined.
Germany started an excellence initiative
through the DFG in 2006 that has served as a
model for the Canada First Research Excellence
Fund. It consisted, in part, of funding for graduate schools for the highest level of research training and for clusters of excellence in research. In
a number of instances, graduate schools and
excellence clusters have involved Max Planck,
Helmholtz, Leibniz and Fraunhofer institutes,
large businesses and SMEs that are associated
with universities in their regions of the country.
In the descriptions of the German model of
funding that I have read or heard about, the
terms extra- and intramural are not used.
As Canada thinks about how to improve
research and innovation, we need to take advantage of all researchers in our country – those in
our National Research Council laboratories and
in our federal science and social science departments, as well as in our universities and industries. We need to find different models and exciting new ways of bringing them into partnerships.
The full group of Canadian researchers is the
warp and weave of this country’s research fabric.
Let us make that fabric strong by increasing our
work together in the common interest of improving the life of our citizens and newcomers.
Martha Crago is vice-president,
research, at Dalhousie University.
Her column appears in every
second issue of University Affairs.
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