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Canada needs more bang from university research

Canadian businesses are spending nearly $1-billion a year on university R&D -- more than most of the developed world on a per capita basis.

But a new report by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards concludes we're not getting enough bang for the buck.

"I see no evidence that Canada can claim a gold medal in the results we get from this research," said senior research associate Ian Currie, the report's author. "We're not lagging, but we're not leading."

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Business spending on university research accounts for 0.06 per cent of GDP in Canada, compared to 0.03 per cent in Australia, and 0.02 per cent in the United States and Britain. And Canada leads those same countries in terms of its share of university R&D that's funded by business -- 8.5 per cent in 2008 versus 5.7 per cent for the U.S., 4.6 per cent for Britain and 4.9 per cent for Australia.

And Canadian companies tend to do more of their R&D in universities than do companies elsewhere.

In spite of that, the report says there's little evidence Canada is getting the full economic and social value from all that money based on measures of business-university collaboration, such as patenting, licensing, invention disclosures and university start-up companies.

So how can Canada do better? The report recommends:

- Better leveraging the $370-million that Ottawa spends to encourage business-university collaboration.

- Putting decision-making on how this money is spent at "arms-length from government."

- Review and enhance the role of intermediary organizations that pool R&D efforts by universities and business.

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- Start a national conversation on how to better manage intellectual property developed at universities.

- Ottawa should articulate a clear federal policy on what it expects from university-business co-operation.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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