President makes Budget 2020 pitch for universities

Budget 2020 offers the federal government and universities a unique opportunity to elevate Canada’s place on the world stage when it comes to the most-pressing issues of our time, Western President Alan Shepard told members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance Tuesday in Ottawa.

Shepard was invited to address the panel on behalf of Western and the university sector. He was among a dozen witnesses during the committee’s fourth hearing.

During his presentation, he outlined a trio of opportunities for Budget 2020 to support key priorities in partnership with Universities Canada, Council of Ontario Universities and the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities:

Research and development.

Nodding to government-funded research and development investment led by universities in 2018, Shepard called on the government to “further the return on the R&D investment by Canadians to make Canada as competitive as possible on the world stage.”

Citing a Universities Canada proposal, Shepard suggested a new fund to move ideas and intellectual property from university campuses into the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. The fund could support partnerships with local and regional industries “in which universities are particularly active,” he said.

Climate change.

“Universities have a large role to play in mitigating climate change,” Shepard said. “We do new research and make available our ideas and our technology. And on our campuses, it’s believed that at least half of the shovel-ready projects focus on green infrastructure and energy efficiency.”

He offered up two U15-supported proposals – a Green Campus Infrastructure Fund and a Clean Future Research and Innovation Fund.

The Green Campus Investment and Innovation Fund is a suggested $2-billion fund to support projects that increase the energy efficiency of university campuses and decrease their carbon footprint.

The Clean Future Research and Innovation Fund would invest $200 million per year in mitigating and adapting to climate change while creating new business opportunities. The fund would support research, proof-of-concept support and entrepreneurship training.

“Further investment in this broad area of green-tech, clean-tech would enable researchers to develop better ways to reduce our own carbon footprint, and it would position Canada as a seller of climate-change solutions in the global marketplace,” he said.

Special to Western NewsPeter Fragiskatos, MP-London North, Amy Bryson, Executive Director, Senior Advisor to the Western President, and Western President Alan Shepard following Tuesday’s meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in Ottawa.

International research collaborations.

“Solutions to the world’s most urgent and complex problems are unlikely to be found in isolation,” Shepard stressed. “In a post-Brexit world, there will be new opportunities to engage in global research initiatives – as the boundaries among global research institutions and national and international funding agencies are redrawn.”

These potential collaborations, he said, could offer new opportunities for students and researchers, alike.

During a questioning period that followed the presentations, Peter Fragiskatos, MP-London North, asked Shepard about “an optimal way” for governments and universities to partner on climate change.

“How can we work together in a better way – government, universities, and the private sector – to advance this issue?” he asked.

In response, Shepard credited this priority’s placement to university students across the country who “were on this before the faculty and staff were. They have often been the leaders in this work.”

Noting universities have been conducting basic research for some time, he stressed the need for those developed technologies to “get out the door as fast as possible.”

Asked to cite a particular challenge to that by Fragiskatos, Shepard noted that universities “still need help getting our products to market.”

In addition to advocating for universities, Shepard also applauded City of London Mayor Ed Holder’s appeal to “improve transportation to Southwestern Ontario.”

On Monday, Holder appeared before the same committee and called, in part, for “expanding rail connections across the region and, ultimately, the country.”

“Our residents and businesses, and the economic potential they represent, continue to be held back by a lack of options to move between London and Toronto, as well as London and Windsor/Detroit,” Holder said, stressing the need for federal investment along the entire rail corridor from Windsor to Quebec City.

Budget 2020 will be released in the spring. The Government of Canada kicked off its consultations last month.