Quebec Undercuts Innovation

Cuts to Research Detrimental to Future of Universities

  • Concordia researchers developing ways to reduce fuel consumption during flight. Photo Sam Slotnick

When the Quebec government announced on Dec. 6 that it would be slashing $31 million from the Fonds de recherche du Québec, they decided to cut the legs from under a sector that is essentially the lifeblood of universities.

The fund was initially created in 2011 to promote and enhance research in the province.

Research is the vacuum that sucks in money and prestige and attracts those at the top of their fields to schools that can provide them with the greatest opportunities. The brightest researchers will attract more qualified professors, leading to more students paying those highly sought-after tuition fees.

Three separate funds make up the Fonds, separated into the categories of Nature et technologie, Santé and Societé et culture. The biggest cuts come at the expense of the Nature et technologie fund, which will be losing 30 per cent of its $50.1-million-dollar budget. The other categories are faced with 13 per cent cuts to their budgets.

Concordia has six research teams receiving large amounts of money from the Nature and technology fund—their futures just became much less stable.

Research that makes headlines, like when a team of Concordia engineering students won the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge and are waiting to have their project launched into space, is free publicity that can only mean more interest in the university.

The cuts are a staggeringly counter-productive way of making Quebec’s universities more competitive, a concept that is always being paid lip service by the province’s politicos.

On Nov. 20, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec released a statement addressing the budget that was tabled by Pauline Marois’s government.

They said, “The Quebec budget includes no measures associated with research in the context of spending on universities. As with the previous Liberal vision, investments in research are always in a context of public-private partnerships rather than as part of an overall vision for the development of knowledge within higher education institutions.”

It seems that universities are slowly shifting the focus of research projects to topics that are more marketable, and thus profitable.

In 1999, the provincial government began the Valorisation-Recherche Québec, “to improve the innovative capability of Quebec businesses in priority sectors by banking on partnerships between universities, companies, government research centres and college technology transfer centres.”

Under this program, four companies were formed to forge partnerships with universities to market their research out to corporations. Concordia partnered with one of these companies, Valeo Management, which it pays to commercialize research results.

In the 2012-13 budget, the university reported that 0.1 per cent of its gross revenue, or $450,000, comes from contracted research that originates from partnerships like this.

And it’s just these types of partnerships that are threatening the sovereignty of research at Quebec universities.

A petition addressed to Quebec Lieutenant Governor Pierre Duchesne that is over 9,000 signatures strong is currently circulating amongst the province’s researchers.

The petition calls for the government to “defend the integrity of scientific research in Quebec,” and denounces the cuts, as they “irreparably undermine the foundations of research and advanced training.”

Each step the government takes in the direction of research corporatization is chipping away at independent innovations in universities that attract the best and brightest—and the money that comes with them.

—with files from Jane Gatensby

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