EDUCATION

Alliances for research

BRUCE WALLACE September 21 1987
EDUCATION

Alliances for research

BRUCE WALLACE September 21 1987

Alliances for research

EDUCATION

The announcement symbolized the growing ties between Canadian universities and industry—and the government’s efforts to encourage such alliances. Last month the federally funded Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced that it would contribute almost half the costs to establish a $l-million five-year industrial research program at Montreal’s McGill University. Ottawa’s partner in that investment is Xerox Canada Inc., the business equipment conglomerate.

The joint venture is one of 45 that the

government agency has set up at Canadian universities since 1984, when it began its University Industry Program, which roughly doubles the money contributed by businesses for university research and development. Since then the council has invested $64 million in such programs and has increased its budget for 1987-1988 by $10 million over last year to $26 million. Said Dr. Robert Marchessault, a Xerox vice-president who will chair the McGill program: “This is a big step toward making Canadian universities part of the national economy.”

Industry’s investment in university research is an established and controversial practice. Said Clifford Stanners, a McGill cancer researcher who is considering applying for an industry grant: “Five years ago the community was divided over industrial grants. But funding sources for universities are drying up.” And by picking up half the costs of such investments, the NSERC has en-

abled Canadian companies with more limited funds to reduce their costs. Said Murdoch McKinnon, director of research and development for CAE Electronics Ltd. of Montreal: “Industry gives up a degree of control over research done by a university. But the benefit is that we gain access to a pool of trained talent.” Still, some critics charge that by establishing an industry research chair, private companies are able to co-opt Canada’s publicly funded university research community for their own strategic interests. Officials at Xerox say that they hope to steer McGill’s research to-

ward the development of high-technology paper products. That approach has led some scientists to say they are concerned that universities are sacrificing their traditional mission to carry out pure research. Said Marchessault: “There are still a lot of purists who object to private companies making money out of universities. But the universities have a responsibility to make their students functional for the private sector.” For his part, McGill principal David Johnston declared: “Canada will pay an enormous price over the next 10 to 15 years if we don’t stimulate research and development. And linking university and industry is an example of the path we must follow.” Ensuring co-operation, he said, is a challenge that the Canadian research community will have to meet if it is to redress the shortage of research and development in Canada.

BRUCE WALLACE

VAN DUSEN

in Montreal