Province Still Behind In University Research Funding

Telegraph Journal - July 10 2013 admin July 12, 2013

David Campbell criticizes GNB’s performance in fostering R&D funding in the province. Tell us your thoughts on the matter in the comments or start a discussion with David on Twitter (@jupia)

Back in 2002, the Progressive Conservative government released a strategy meant to foster more innovation and research activity in New Brunswick. It was called Greater Opportunity: An Innovation Agenda for New Brunswick, and it set ambitious research and development (R&D) targets for the province.

The 2002 Innovation Agenda included three “specific” objectives: 1) join the top four provinces in innovation by increasing R&D expenditures to match their spending on a per capita basis; 2) lead Canada in at least two areas of industrial research; and 3) enhance New Brunswick’s R&D infrastructure and increase R&D expenditures to meet the Canadian average of annual per capita R&D spending.

At the time I was skeptical of this plan. To meet the first objective, New Brunswick would have required an immediate boost in R&D spending across the province by something like $100 million per year and yet the government only announced $20 million over an undetermined amount of time through the newly created New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.

The government reported on its progress toward this plan for a couple of years, and then stopped. In 2006, the government changed hands and Greater Opportunity: An Innovation Agenda for New Brunswick went in the dustbin.

This week Statistics Canada released its latest estimates of R&D expenditures in the higher education sector, and New Brunswick remains dead last among the 10 provinces in Canada.

There was $158 million worth of R&D associated with the New Brunswick’s universities in 2011 (or $209 per capita), which was the lowest spending among the 10 provinces. Newfoundland and Labrador was the highest spending province with $417 per capita followed by Nova Scotia at $391 per capita.

The federal government’s spending on R&D in the higher education sector in New Brunswick is also the lowest among the 10 provinces across Canada. In 2011, the feds spent $49 per capita here compared to spending $107 per capita in Nova Scotia, $85 per capita in P.E.I. and $92 per capita in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Provincial government R&D spending in the higher education sector is so low that I question the veracity of the numbers. Statistics Canada is reporting that the New Brunswick government spent $3.3 million in 2011 on R&D in the higher education sector or a little more than $4 per capita.

This compares to an average provincial government spending across Canada of $35 per capita. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial government spent nearly $26 million on R&D in the higher education sector.

Maybe the province is funding R&D through some other channel that isn’t showing up in these numbers. I hope so.

As the former New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra once said, it’s deja vu all over again. In 2013 we have another Tory government in place and a new innovation agenda.

The government once again recently announced another $20 million over an undetermined period of time to foster more research and development in New Brunswick.

In 2002, the government said we would lead Canada in at least two areas of industrial research by 2012. That was a pretty good idea.

What happened? It launched its eNB strategy with great fanfare. A few years later that initiative petered out. What happened?

In 2002, the government said that its focus would be on fostering more private sector R&D. A decade later we are still dead last for business enterprise funding of R&D in the higher education sector. What happened?

We don’t know much about the new innovation and research strategy.

I would propose that if we want to have a successful strategy this time around, we should try to understand what went wrong last time and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

David Campbell is an economic development consultant based in Moncton. He writes a daily blog, It’s the Economy Stupid, at davidwcampbell.com. His column appears every Wednesday and Saturday.

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