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Analyzing Canada’s Higher Education R&D Landscape

In the realm of research and innovation, the higher education sector serves as a cornerstone for Canada’s progress, nurturing intellectual capital and pushing the boundaries of knowledge. The “Performance of Canada’s R&D and Innovation Ecosystem (2023)” map, with a lens on the higher education sector, presents a critical narrative that delves into the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. 

Higher Education’s Role in R&D Spending 

Canada’s reputation as a leader in higher education is reflected in its continued substantial investments in research and development.  

In 2022, Canada’s postsecondary institutions performed an estimated $16.2 billion in R&D, of which, $8 billion was funded by the institutions themselves while the rest was provided by the federal government ($4.25 billion), provincial governments ($1.1 billion), businesses ($1.2 billion), and private not-for-profits ($1.5 billion).  

Standing tall among OECD nations, Canada secured the 6th rank in higher education spending in 2021. This commitment is underscored by the Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) investment, which accounts for 0.64% of the country’s GDP. As it stands, Canada invests $5.5 billion more in HERD than relative to the OECD average (as a share of GDP).  

However, the trend isn’t uniformly rosy, as HERD as a percentage of GDP has been on a downward trajectory for the past two years (illustrated in the figure below), signaling potential concerns. This shift raises questions about sustaining the momentum of research and innovation within the higher education sector and its wider implications for Canada’s competitive edge on the global stage. 

Canada’s Higher Education R&D Expenditures Outpace OECD Average (% of GDP, 1991-21)

R&D Workforce Distribution 

Outside of performing and funding R&D activities, Canada’s postsecondary institutions are critical for developing and supplying the next generation of innovative talent that will be employed across governments and industry. As of 2020, the R&D workforce in Canada numbered 276,640 individuals, each contributing their skills to drive innovation and progress. 

Surprisingly, the majority of these R&D professionals find their home outside the traditional confines of higher education. The business enterprise sector takes the lead, employing a substantial 178,690 full-time equivalents (FTEs), constituting an impressive 64.5% of the total R&D workforce. 

Higher education institutions, while vital to the intellectual fabric of the nation, employ 80,100 R&D personnel. These researchers and professionals make up 28% of Canada’s R&D workforce, playing a crucial role in advancing knowledge and pushing the boundaries of innovation. This divergence urges a closer look at integrating education and industry, optimizing Canada’s R&D distribution, and propelling our innovation potential.

Where do Canadian Researchers Work? (2020)

Budget 2023’s Impact on Higher Education 

Budget 2023 marks a turning point for Canada’s higher education sector, prompting a critical re-evaluation of its role in research and development. The measures introduced reflect a deliberate shift away from traditional reliance on universities and colleges as primary drivers of innovation. 

The expansion of the College and Community Innovation Program with a $108 million infusion underscores a changing trajectory. The increased support was welcomed by the President and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada, stating: “This budget demonstrates that the Government of Canada recognizes the growing importance of applied  research in colleges and institutes as a path to economic resiliency and competitiveness for Canadian SMEs.”  

While collaborative innovation is of value, the reorientation begs the question of whether the foundational strength of academia, specifically universities as an intellectual R&D hub could be compromised. Paul Davidson, President of Universities Canada noted that there was an overall lack of any significant support for Canadian research.  

Equally significant is the allocation of a mere $17 million to the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research. This allocation, though nominal in comparison to the sector’s potential, resonates as a departure from higher education’s central role in spearheading R&D initiatives. This shift challenges the very essence of the sector’s capacity to lead innovation, potentially eroding its standing as a catalyst for intellectual advancement. 

Forging Ahead with Collaborative Vision 

The “Performance of Canada’s R&D and Innovation Ecosystem (2023)” map echoes a narrative of both challenges and opportunities within the higher education sector. It beckons Canada to pioneer a path of collaboration, where the lines between academia, industry, and government blur, fostering a holistic ecosystem that fuels innovation. In a rapidly evolving world, the higher education sector’s commitment to research and development remains a beacon of progress, one that can only shine brighter through strategic collaborations and a commitment to transformative education. 

Contact us now to discover the power of Canada’s R&D and Innovation and its potential impact on your organization’s growth and success.  

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