Polytechnics and colleges are under-utilized in the Canadian innovation ecosystem. Canada needs to balance its well-established strong support for science and discovery at universities with support for applied research and commercialization performed by polytechnics and colleges with, and for, their industry partners. We present six ideas below.
1. Increase funding to the College and Community Innovation Program (CCIP) administered by NSERC.
The priority for this new funding should be to increase the number of Technology Access Centres, which provide individual firms access to innovative talent, equipment and facilities.
2. Expand existing research talent programs at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to increase participation by polytechnic and college students.
Programs designed to mentor the next generation of researchers are primarily used by graduate and post-doctoral researchers because of a narrow interpretation of terms and conditions. These programs should include the talent produced by polytechnics and colleges.
3. Create a permanent annual program at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) based on the successfully completed College and Community Social Innovation Fund pilot.
This program will enable polytechnics and colleges to continue to conduct social innovation research projects with community partners across some of Canada’s most vulnerable communities.
4. Include innovation-focused internship support to connect polytechnic and college undergraduate students with firms and non-profit organizations.
This work-integrated learning initiative will build applied research and innovation skills, as well as enhance graduate employment outcomes, while also addressing employer need for workers with innovation skills.
5. Launch a National Post-Secondary-Business Voucher Initiative delivered through all regional development agencies.
The initiative will increase the number of firms making use of the R&D capabilities of Canadian higher education institutions—polytechnics and universities.
6. Grow polytechnic and college research capabilities to address business innovation needs by adequately funding these institutions’ indirect costs of research.
Polytechnics and colleges are limited in their ability to serve industry partners with professionalized research support due to poor federal program design. This measure would enhance the capacity of polytechnics and colleges in spurring business innovation, and provide industry partners with a smoother, quicker and predictable path to market.
The time has come to allow Canada's polytechnics and colleges to make their optimal contributions to increasing Canada's innovation impact.