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Investing in People - An Action plan

A. Canada's Innovation Strategy

In February 2002, the ministers of Industry and Human Resources Development launched the Government of Canada's Innovation Strategy. Since then, more than 10,000 stakeholders have participated in a national engagement process on innovation and learning.

The Innovation Strategy identified key targets, including ranking Canada among the top five countries in terms of R&D intensity per capita, which would entail tripling private sector and doubling Government of Canada investments in R&D, all by 2010. Early actions by the Government of Canada to reach these targets were announced at the National Summit on Innovation and Learning in October 2002. Notable among these actions is the government’s commitment to increase support to research-granting agencies for graduate students and research.

In the context of the Innovation Strategy, NSERC sponsored a series of consultations in spring 2002 with more than 300 stakeholders, including students, university and college professors and administrators, industry leaders, and public servants from provincial and federal departments and agencies. A consistent message heard by NSERC was that Canada will require significant increases in the number of highly qualified people (HQP) in the natural sciences and engineering (NSE) if we are to achieve the goals of the Innovation Strategy. Throughout the consultations, participants suggested a number of concrete steps NSERC could take to help increase the numbers of NSE HQP. Some of their suggestions focused on areas in which NSERC could take direct action, including adjusting its programs, policies and funding levels to attract and retain greater numbers of NSE HQP. Other suggestions focused on areas where NSERC could play an indirect role by influencing or helping to coordinate the actions of others. The majority of workshop participants agreed that the future demand for HQP is a critical challenge for Canada and stressed the need for a coordinated effort by all stakeholders to address this challenge.

NSERC investments in university research and training in NSE are vital to the success of the Innovation Strategy and the government’s long-term goals for Canadian prosperity and a high quality of life. Through Budget Plan 2003 – Building the Canada We Want – the Government of Canada has taken steps toward implementing the Innovation Strategy by increasing the annual budget of NSERC by 10 percent, resulting in an increase of $55 million per year. Also, it created the Canada Graduate Scholarships program, which will provide NSERC with an additional $31.5 million per year when fully implemented.

Each of NSERC's three kinds of investments – in people, discovery and innovation – contributes to the development of HQP, who are recognized in both Canada's Innovation Strategy and Budget 2003 as fundamental to making our country one of the five most innovative in the world. For example, on average, 33 percent of the grant money awarded to professors through Discovery Grants is spent on the training of HQP. Furthermore, NSERC's university-industry partnerships programs expose students to the opportunities available in Canadian industry and provide industry with direct access to talented students coming out of our universities. These programs help train talented youth in areas of science and engineering that are relevant to Canadian industry and, therefore, help retain HQP in Canada after graduation.

Immediate action is required to ensure a reliable supply of highly skilled people, and NSERC has set out bold steps through a slate of concrete investments and initiatives. Investing in People – An Action Plan builds on the input NSERC has received from representatives of its key stakeholder groups, members of its Standing Committees and Council, and a consultative group with membership from the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS). As the Action Plan is implemented, with both short- and long-term initiatives and in partnership with other stakeholders, Canada’s Innovation Strategy will lead the way to greater prosperity and a better quality of life for all Canadians.

B. Action Plan

Over the next five years, NSERC will implement an investment strategy for HQP and will direct future federal investments to address Canada’s needs for HQP to 2010 and beyond. NSERC will build on programs that have a proven track record and will create new initiatives where necessary. It will also undertake to better understand specific challenges in order to develop appropriate measures and partnerships.

NSERC's Action Plan will include the elements outlined below. While certain initiatives can be undertaken immediately, others will require further consideration to identify appropriate actions and responses.

  1. To increase the pipeline of young people interested in science and engineering, NSERC will:

    For early action

    1. Increase the participation of children and youth in science promotion activities, enhance their interest in science and math, and improve our understanding of science and math education as well as the training and resources dedicated to it in order to help build a science culture in Canada
      1. Increase investments in the PromoScience Program and create specialized chairs in science education and promotion.
    2. Expose more science and engineering undergraduate students to research and development (R&D), stimulate their interest in R&D and influence their decision to continue on to graduate studies.
      1. Increase the number of Undergraduate Student Research Awards.
  2. To ensure that Canada develops a skilled and talented labour force to satisfy the anticipated demand for HQP in all sectors of the Canadian economy, NSERC will:

    For early action

    1. Encourage more students to pursue advanced degrees.
      1. Increase the value of NSERC Postgraduate Scholarships provided to doctoral students, as well as the value of Industrial Postgraduate Scholarships.
      2. Implement NSERC's portion of the Canada Graduate Scholarships program, which provides increased stipends for masters and doctoral students.
    2. Support postdoctoral fellows to continue their research work in an academic setting to help address the projected faculty renewal in the next five to ten years as many professors retire.
      1. Increase the value of Postdoctoral Fellowships. Consideration will be given in future to increasing the number of Postdoctoral Fellowships.
    3. Enable Canadian students to access the best research facilities abroad to enrich their training, by developing new bilateral and multilateral agreements and by promoting the participation of Canadian students in existing programs that support student mobility for graduate studies and research training.
      1. Implement agreements with Japan and Taiwan for summer research experiences and promote Canadian participation in the new Marie Curie International Fellowships under the European Union's Sixth Framework Program, by raising awareness of the program.
      2. Promote awareness of existing agreements with Japan and the United Kingdom among Canadian students to increase their participation in competitions.
      3. Increase NSERC's knowledge of facilities and expertise abroad, and determine methods and incentives to encourage more Canadians to become research students in excellent laboratories abroad.


    4. Help ensure that students in Canadian universities complete their graduate work in a shorter timeframe by developing a better understanding of student experiences and the factors that influence completion times and attrition rates.
      1. In collaboration with CAGS, report on the results of several surveys and recommend policy actions to improve graduate production in Canada while maintaining current high standards. NSERC will monitor the trend among a set of large universities to forgive tuition costs at the doctoral level (usually for up to three years) in order to assess the scope and potential impact of this trend on completion times and enrolment. NSRC will also monitor the impact of the generous Canada Graduate Scholarship doctoral awards (see 2.a above)on completion times to verify that the most significant correlation of time to degree is the level of funding.

      For further consideration

    5. Determine why research fellows do not return to Canada and what incentives would entice them to do so by conducting surveys of NSERC-funded postdoctoral fellows (PDFs). Based on the survey findings, identify mechanisms to encourage more NSERC-funded Canadians doing advanced study and research abroad to maintain links with the Canadian research community and, ultimately, return to Canada.
      1. Develop new programs and policies that will influence decisions by PDFs to return to Canada. While consideration will be given to a third year of support for fellows abroad to return to a Canadian university, this will require further evaluation, and alternate incentive-based options will be examined.
    6. Identify mechanisms to attract HQP to Canada, as well as mechanisms to provide them with direct links to Canadian industry.
      1. Explore the development of programs to expose foreign students to the Canadian research environment (e.g., international student exchanges, based on reciprocal or other arrangements; summer research experiences; and industrial postgraduate scholarships and industrial research fellowships for foreigners).
  3. To ensure Canadian research is world-class and internationally competitive and thus can provide a stimulating and relevant training environment, as well as employment opportunities, for the next generation of scientists and engineers, NSERC will:

    For early action

    1. Enable professors in Canadian universities to work in an internationally competitive research environment.
      1. Provide adequate levels of funding for the large number of newly appointed professors who are first-time applicants to the Discovery Grants program.
      2. Continue to support researchers who have proven themselves to be productive and excellent, and who will provide additional funding to support more graduate students.
      3. Ensure that university professors and students have the tools and instruments and access to facilities necessary to undertake their research.
      4. Allow university professors to seize special research opportunities.
    2. Help strengthen Canadian industrial R&d capacity.
      1. Provide additional funding to university-industry partnership programs, and increase the value of Industrial Postgraduate Scholarships.

      For further consideration

    3. Enable professors in Canadian universities to work in an internationally competitive research environment.
      1. Enhance support for researchers who have proven themselves to be productive and excellent, and who will provide additional funding to support more graduate students.
    4. Expose students to the opportunities available in Canadian industry and help train students in science and engineering areas that are relevant to Canadian industry.
      1. Increase the number of Industrial Postgraduate Scholarships and Industrial Research Fellowships. Given that the Industrial Research Fellowships program is currently undersubscribed, a first priority will be to explore means to encourage greater participation by industry, including SMEs, in this program.
    5. Expand opportunities for the training of technology-transfer specialists to facilitate the commercialization of university research.
      1. Increase NSERC's contribution to the tri-agency Intellectual Property Management Program.
    6. Ensure that new graduates in the NSE acquire the appropriate mix and quality of technical and non-technical skills over the course of their study.
      1. Develop appropriate programs and policies. To help develop policies, NSERC will consult with national and international stakeholders from all sectors to identify the skill sets required by the next generation of scientists and engineers, and will share best practices in innovative training. Having identified the skills required of NSE graduates, NSERC will explore policies or programs to encourage their development.
    7. Explore how NSERC might assist Canadian colleges to be more effective participants in regional innovation and economic development, based on its evaluation of the research and innovation capacity of Canadian colleges acquired through site visits to colleges across Canada. (This evaluation was conducted in collaboration with the Association of Canadian Community Colleges in Fall 2002).
      1. Propose, for additional funding by the federal government, new programs and policies that are in keeping with any future government plans regarding support for the college system in Canada.
  4. To facilitate a coordinated funding environment for the research community, NSERC will:


    1. Minimize the time a researcher (or student) spends applying for funding and peer reviewing funding proposals.
      1. Continue to collaborate with federal and provincial partners in administering research funds and consider synergies with other organizations when developing programs and policies.

C. Monitoring

NSERC will monitor progress against the objectives identified in Investing in People – An Action Plan and will report to Council on an annual basis on the implementation of the Plan. Where appropriate, the Action Plan will be revisited to adjust to changing circumstances.