Engage the universities

Shipley’s got a piece in the TJ this morning that quotes an expert saying that the intellectual heft at provincial universities should be engaged by the government and its self-sufficiency agenda.

But where others failed, Graham could succeed – if he taps into the hundreds of men and women at the province’s universities who are paid to be critical thinkers, said Kurt Peacock, the Crabtree visiting scholar at the University of New Brunswick. Peacock is a researcher working with UNB faculty and outside agencies on public policy in New Brunswick.


Too often the entire burden of turning political dreams into economic reality has fallen almost entirely on the civil service, said Peacock. “There isn’t that culture of sharing ideas between the academe and the civil service that you see in other parts of Canada.”

You will recall that I have been recommending that the government fund an external economic development research institute – loosely fashioned on the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity in Ontario. I would like to see it provide an annual, objective economic report card on provincial economic progress (something that is not available anywhere now). This would be similar to Jeannot Volpe’s economic ‘report card’ only without the ridiculous politics attached.

I would also like it to publish 5-6 major research works each year – with direct, tangible and actionable research for New Brunswick. Topics such as “What works: A review of the benefits of attracting multinational investment – learnings for New Brunswick” or “Evolving from place-based economic development – application to Northern New Brunswick” or “Documenting the symbiotic relationship between large and small business in successful economies” or “Using language as an economic development driver: Best practices” or “Transforming peripheral economies: What can we learn from Wales?” or “Why do New Brunswick corporations contribute less tax to the provincial budget than all other provinces in Canada (except BC)?* – Is there a coorelation between low taxes paid and economic growth/decline?”

And that is my problem with another academic institute. They have no sense of time and little ability to draw a straight line between academic research and much needed policy guidance. Too much “chi squared” and not enough getting hands dirty. If an external economic development institute was funded, I would recommend that tight output requirements be established so that the Phds don’t wander through poppy fields for five years and publish one report with marginally interesting findings.

*This is true. If you look at corporate income and capital taxes paid in all 10 provinces, only British Columbia has a lower % of their total revenue from this source. However, in BC this is more than offset by natural resources revenue.

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0 Responses to Engage the universities

  1. mikel says:

    This is why I’ve been on you guys’ case-private institutional think tanks don’t get started by governments-they get started, well, privately. AIMS didn’t get set up by any government, but by the corporate sector. However, some universities have started their own, the Parkland Institute comes to mind, but again, the money needs to come from somewhere.

    However, thats a common interpretation to see universities as ‘ivory towers’ simply because people (not saying you) are too lazy to read complete analyses. Economics is a terribly complex subject and not everything can be dumbed down to AIMS level of ‘let the private sector do it’.

    It would be nice to see such institute spring up, but thats up to researchers and universities NOT the provincial government (they often fund them once they are set up, but they don’t set them up themselves). Sometimes such institutes already exist though, and the problem, once again, goes back to a monopoly media which simply won’t cover them or print their studies. I can remember a very important conference on poverty last year in Fredericton, and the paper didn’t even mention it until the day of the conference with a few anecdotes. So nobody knew about it except those in the field-of course that begs the question of whether anybody would be interested anyway since there is such political apathy.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Our universities need to focus on the job we fund them for; generating high quality graduates. When, and only when, they get that right then maybe, just maybe, they can dable in research centers, research chairs, political policy development, studies and all the other things that are currently diverting attention away from the students. In fact, many professors are motivated and preoccuppied with working to minimize the classes they have to teach. Teaching 3 classes per term is for losers; the ‘smart professors’ start a research center, take a research chair, a chairmanship, fellowship or whatever other goodie they can find to avoid focusing on the students. The ‘best’ professors are teaching one class per term or about 80 hours per year.

    Let’s not lose focus of our universities’ critically important role to play in our prosperity; producing excellent graduates. This is so critical to our economy that I think it would be reasonable to ask professors to commit 25%, or about 500 hours per year, of their paid time to teaching students. Imagine the boast to our economy from the talented graduates, if university teaching time went from between 80-240 hours per year to 500 at no additional cost.

    Regarding government supporting a ‘think tank’, support comes in several ways. Maybe it is not financial support in this case, but a willingness to seriously consider and recognize the research from such an enity. Past governments have shown great respect for organizations such as C.D. Howe; why not show the same respect for a group specifically focused on local issues?

    PS I know there are professors dying to say there is preparation time, marking time etc in addition to class time. The way I figure it, even allowing 100% preparation time, that would be 500 hours teaching, 500 hours preparation, and 1000 hours for ‘research’, conferences , professional development etc.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The above is exactly the problem, in New Brunswick virtually ALL the focus is on ‘teaching’. They brag and brag that professors mostly do the teaching themselves.

    I’ve been in just about every faculty and nowadays a professor standing in front of a class lecturing for X hours a week is a complete waste of time. To quote a little from the political right, at the university level it is primarily the student themselves who excel or not. The days of ‘teaching’ making the student are gone by the end of high school.

    The feds are putting money into RESEARCH, NOT teaching. As I’ve said before, in most faculties apart from science you can get a much better education if you are driven with an internet connection and volunteer work. Some professor at the front of the room lecturing is almost pointless as virtually everything that guy/girl says can be found on the internet being ‘taught’ by a world famous researcher.

    Small class sizes are imperative at the grade school levels, NOT at university. I challenged many courses from volunteer work and did better than most students who sat in a classroom. If a student needs to be led around a subject like a puppy, chances are they aren’t ready for university. Anybody who has ever been to university knows that regurgitation are the main requisites for undergrad degrees. Where student-professor relations are important is at the graduate level, and I know several professors who have become jaded trying to get their faculty to set up PHD programs only to be stifled at every turn.

    Take a concrete example-journalism. You can go to hundreds of award winning podcasts, blogs, etc., run by the best journalists in the world, you can read their books, you can join any number of volunteer run websites for virtually any issue. You can type in ‘citizen journalism’ and get thousands of hits of websites designed to train people in journalism, and of course libraries are full of books.

    For twenty five bucks you can have a microphone and a free podcast with your own news show, with a little more you can have a digital camera and have a youtube newsite.

    Now try to tell me that having some prof who works part time at CBC or Irving coming in and lecturing you on journalism is the ‘better way to learn’. Hell, even the editorial level of NB papers are full of typos and the most ludicrous ideas you’ve ever come across. Back before Charles was banned he was produced more interesting and important journalism than the other media, even though he could hardly spell and badly needed an editor.

    It is RESEARCH that pays the bills and gets the money from the feds and private sector. However, governments rarely set these up, it is primarily researchers and private money. There are exceptions, the Parkland Institute was set up by a university I believe, as was the Munk Center. Here in Waterloo the university and town provides cheap land while the RIM guys pony up the initial dough, which then the various levels of government contribute to. The Perimeter Institute also has a large community outreach program to get the public to come to their talks.

    The guy from RIM now says that his next ‘venture’ is setting up an Institute that will essentially be a canadian version of the US’ Council on Foreign Relations, which has excellent podcasts by the way. The cost is minimal to start, I think he said a million dollars. In NB though, the millionaires have a far different agenda, hence the problems.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “It is RESEARCH that pays the bills and gets the money from the feds and private sector.”

    You’ve just solved a big problem for the PNB….cut of the provincial dollars going to ‘educate’ students and get out of the way and let the ‘universities’do their thing; chase after federal research money.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I totally agree we can get better ROI from our universities by engaging their professors and students and hiring their graduates. However, the concept that we expect them to lead economic development by magically chrurning out successful businesses is a low probability bet.

    In the past 10 years, taxpayers have, and continue to, contribute billions to Canadian university research through NSERC and CFIA. Have they done interesting things, advanced our knowledge base, enhanced our graduates’ experience? For sure. But how many successful businesses have they spun out (Success=surviving beyond the grants and funding)

    Yes, it may happen, everyone loves to point to RIM, but given the massive financial commitments, and the few examples of success, we know the odds are low.

    Make a list of prosperous businesses in our area: Irving, Mccains, Gannog, Robbie Tozer, John Manship, Whitehill Technologies. Now, how many of these successes came from univerity research?

    The point is, many of our successes have strong unversity ties by educating the leaders and the employees and perhaps enhancing their poducts and services with research, but let’s not get carried away and expect our univesities to be the birthplace of new business; they are a catalyst.