Funding programs reverse the ‘brain drain’

Posted on November 24, 2015 in Education Delivery System – Opinion/Editorials – Fifteen years after Canada created funding programs to attract the best and the brightest scientists, it is reaping the rewards.
Nov 23 2015.   Editorial

Someday Canada may be the country that invents a magnetic-levitating train, a way to extract oil that is less environmentally damaging, a lightning-fast quantum computer, or the best therapies for treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

That’s because scientists working on those challenges are right here in Canada.

Just 15 years ago, that would have seemed impossible. Canada was in the midst of anxiety about a “brain drain” to the United States. And it certainly wasn’t considered a destination for the top brainiacs from around the world.
But that’s changed, as reported by the Star’s Kate Allen, thanks to innovative, well-funded science programs that should be celebrated not only for keeping Canadian talent here — but for attracting the best and the brightest other countries have to offer.

Consider the Canada Excellence Research Chair program created in 2000. It gives each of 24 researchers $10 million over seven years. Of the 24 chair holders, 23 are non-Canadian. The other is a Canadian who was attracted back here because of the program.

Then there’s the Canada Research Chair program, also established in 2000, that invests $265 million in 2,000 positions, specifically to attract and retain top minds from around the world.

The spinoff from these programs is immense. They increase our depth of knowledge, improve our quality of life, and strengthen Canada’s international competitiveness. Most importantly, they attract and train the next generation of students and researchers who want to work with the best scientists in the world.

Indeed, it’s the attraction of collaboration that was behind the creation of a third organization that has helped Canada attract and retain talent. The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research was established in 1982 to create broad research programs so the best in Canada could collaborate here — and abroad. Its $16-million annual budget funds 14 research programs. And it’s clearly a success. Since its inception, 18 Nobel laureates have been associated with it.

Still, Canadians don’t know enough about our successful science programs. Indeed, a full 54 per cent of respondents continue to believe the nation’s tech sector, for example, is falling behind, according to an October Ipsos poll. That’s despite the fact that between the mid-1980s and 1997 the number of computer scientists immigrating to Canada increased 15-fold, while engineers increased by 10 and natural scientists went up by a factor of eight.

The investment in science is working, and there are encouraging signs that the new federal government will continue along this path. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged during the election campaign to invest $900 million in tech industries over the next three years. The promise includes $200 million annually for local incubator and accelerator programs to foster the growth of small tech startups and $100 million to the Industrial Research Assistance Program to encourages innovation in small- and medium-sized businesses.

We may not brag about the fact that Canada is home to some of the best brains doing the most innovative research in the world. We’re Canadian, after all. But we should celebrate it.

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