Across Ontario, universities help nurture the skilled and successful citizens of tomorrow. Equally important for our future is the daily activity taking place at labs and research facilities, where ideas and discoveries are born that will lead to a more productive, vibrant and healthy province.
The results of research and innovation help feed us, save our lives, transport us to work, power our homes, organize our social structures and allow us to communicate with each other. Many of the technologies we have come to rely on – from the smart phone to the MRI and the three-point seat belt – have their origins in research carried out in postsecondary institutions, often in partnership with business and governments.
In Ontario’s rapidly-changing economy, innovation is key. During our listening initiative, we consistently heard innovation cited as a crucial element of transformation and growth. Ontarians told us that forward-thinking research, inventions, technology and science are fundamental to keeping the province competitive and thriving. We also heard that universities need to be a proactive partner.
“When a university can use the tremendous intellectual resources at its disposal to help provide real world, timely solutions to local problems, those solutions can be scaled up and the lessons learned applied to provincial problems,” one parent wrote in our survey.
According to Statistics Canada, the higher education sector is the second largest per-former of research and development in Ontario, carrying out an estimated $5.2 billion in work, which translated into 34 per cent of the province’s research activities in 2014.
University-generated research partnerships drive an innovative society by assisting in the production of technological breakthroughs that make businesses more competitive, produce new ideas and data that shape better policies, and generate solutions to local and global issues.
Ontario universities are involved in collaborative research projects that aim to improve lives across all areas of business and society: for example, reducing the harm of oil-and-gas industry flaring, examining new medical uses for wearable technology, looking at ways of making commercial cross-border traffic between Canada and the U.S. more efficient, developing synthetic probiotic treatments to combat the C.difficile virus, and working with police forces to improve officers’ use-of-force decision-making during confrontations.
Further partnerships with private- and public-sector stakeholders are vital in order to produce research that has quantifiable, positive effects on the province.
As Rick Huijbregts, then-VP of Digital Transformation and Innovation at Cisco, said at our Roundtable on Innovation and the New Economy: “Innovation doesn’t only happen in your or our R&D departments. Innovation happens everywhere. We can make the transformation only work when we collaborate between the private sector, academia and government.”
The federal report delivered by Canada’s Fundamental Science Review panel (the Naylor Report), which called for more funding and improved support structures for research and innovation, underlined the crucial role played by postsecondary research in “investing in the future.”
“When quantum physics and relativity were born in the early 20th century, no one could have predicted the array of innovations that would result many years downstream − innovations as varied as the transistor and semi-conductors, solar cells, rechargeable batteries, the laser, the integrated circuit, the personal computer, the Internet, medical imaging, flat-panel high-definition televisions, satellites in orbit, and the BlackBerry, to name but a few,” the report said.
In this spirit of discovery, collaborations across the province between university researchers and business and community partners are driving innovation in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, nanotechnology, clean energy, medical and health research, social sciences, and many other fields.
However, the positive effects of research can’t find their way into the community unless the ideas and inventions born in labs can be turned into real-life products and solutions. Leaders from the technology sector have emphasized to us that Ontario needs to do more to ensure its research is commercialized and goes to market. A 2015 innovation report card from the Conference Board of Canada gave Ontario good marks overall, but said it “might be facing challenges commercializing and reaping the larger benefits of innovation.”
Promoting the commercialization of research requires coordinated work. It requires the combined efforts of universities, businesses, government, accelerators and investors to support projects from the development phase through to product creation and distribution to the customer or enduser. In the case of ideas-based research in areas such as traffic management or health policy, “commercialization” means ensuring it is seen and adopted by decision-makers and service providers.
A thriving and livable Ontario in 25 years’ time will in part depend on the innovations that universities and their partners are working on now. We are committed to developing the research partnerships to produce the concrete, actionable innovations that will help ensure a dynamic future