Sigh…where to start? The barrage of bad news spewing out of the Premier’s office has been so intense that the government’s Machiavellian takeover of post secondary institutions and research and development slipped by with relatively little public outcry.
Sure, some students and academics staged protests on the steps of the Legislature but the general public doesn’t know what the fuss is about. Is it higher tuition fees? No. Do the professors want higher salaries? No. Well what then?
The PC government has recognized (yet again) that Alberta’s economic survival depends on a diversified economy. You mean we’re not going to be beholden to the oil companies anymore? Not so fast, grasshopper.
A bit of background. In 2010 the Stelmach government set up Alberta Innovates to fund short-term, applied research under the banners of Tech Solutions, Bio Solutions, Energy & Environmental Solutions and Health Solutions. Three short years later, Mr Lukaszuk, Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education, declared Alberta Innovates was, like a bad cup of coffee, not “totally satisfying”* and dismantled it. He rolled Tech, Bio and Energy & Environment (and their $160 million budgets) into a yet-to-be-named institute and spun Health Solutions off into Alberta Health Services.
In the interests of brevity let’s call the yet-to-be-named institute the Midas Research Institute (a brilliant term coined by Jeremy Richards in the excellent University of Alberta blog Whither the U of A?)
The Midas Research Institute
Midas Research is a centralized, top-down, government-driven research and development institute created to “help” post secondary institutions commercialize their research in partnership with private companies. Mr Lukaszuk says the research will focus on the “human, animal, agriculture and petroleum industries”.** I have no idea what a “human industry” is.
Midas Research will spin off companies and “help start a new economy for Alberta”. It will also generate a stream of royalties to fund post secondary institutions and benefit businesses.* Assuming of course that the creator of the intellectual property is prepared to give up his IP rights to industry, the university or the government in the first place.
Impact of Midas Research on “basic” research
Researchers are concerned about the impact of Midas Research on “basic” research—pure scientific research intended to increase our understanding of phenomena. When asked how he intends to nurture basic research Mr Lukaszuk replied: basic science (he meant “research”) is “a good beginning” which can be used to “elevate basic science to higher levels and hopefully attract investment to commercialize the product”.**
Bottom line: there’s no such thing as “basic research”. All research is geared to commercialization and the generation of profits, preferably within the current four year election cycle so the PCs can take credit for it.
As an aside, aren’t you glad Alexander Fleming wasn’t pursuing a government-driven/corporate R&D agenda when he discovered blue green mould growing in a contaminated petri dish; he’d have tossed it in the trash!
Impact of Midas Research on post secondary institutions
When Mr Lukaszuk unveiled the Midas Research Institute he also announced that 26 post secondary institutions would not receive a promised 2% budget increase; instead they’d be whacked with a 7.2% budget cut.
As a result the $147 million originally slated to go to post secondary institutions is looking for a new home…Midas Research perhaps?
The hardship caused by this $147 million budget shortfall is immeasurable. Five post secondary institutions have indicated they will cut or curtail 28 programs. The Universities of Calgary and Alberta have not yet released their program cuts; but the U of A says the $67 million shortfall is close to the base funding for one large faculty or 5 small to mid-sized ones.***
Mr Lukaszuk says don’t worry, his department, nay, his very own office, will make the final decision on the cuts. He’ll review the list of programs to be cut, check the enrolment levels and decide whether the programs can be “delivered to students in a different fashion” or at different institutions**** Oh I get it. A course is offered if Mr Lukaszuk says it’s offered. A course is cut if Mr Lukaszuk says it’s cut—so much for the independence and autonomy of our universities, colleges and technical schools.
Government-dictated post secondary education and research
Mr Lukaszuk is the Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education. He dismantled Alberta Innovates which provided applied-research in accordance with government priorities and replaced it with the Midas Research Institute, a university/government/industry collaboration to provide applied-research in accordance with government priorities. At the same time he imposed a $147 million reduction in post secondary funding.
It’s clear that Mr Lukaszuk’s mission is press gang our academics and researchers into serving industry. Those who would prefer to do basic research or teach in a post secondary institution with some level of independence and autonomy need not apply to Campus Alberta.
But here’s the really sad part. The top-down, government-driven research model doesn’t work! Internationally renown scientist Dr Bob Church, a founding member of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, former member of the Medical Research Council of Canada and the Alberta Research Council (the list goes on), says the last time he saw this research model was in the Soviet Union in 1972.***
The model doesn’t result in wealth-creating research, but it does create an exodus of top scientists, clinicians and professionals. And that Mr Lukaszuk is a “brain drain”, not a sustainable economic advantage.
*Calgary Herald, May 6, 2013, A4
**Mr Lukaszuk in an interview with Mike Spear, of Genome Alberta, at the Bio Buzz Conference, (Biotechnology Industry Organization) in Boston earlier this year.
**** Hansard, May 13, 2291
*****Hansard, May 6, 2071