Budget should reflect that humanities, social sciences are key to resilient economy

Mark Henderson
February 15, 2017

The morning that the report of the influential Advisory Council on Economic Growth was released, its chair Dominic Barton, global managing partner of McKinsey & Company, was in Ottawa, speaking to students, university presidents, community, government and business leaders at Converge 2017, an event organized by Universities Canada to promote fresh thinking on Canada’s future.

Barton spoke about several of the themes in his report — the need for next generation skills development to build a highly skilled and resilient Canadian workforce; the critical importance of unlocking Canada’s growth potential in key sectors such as agri-foods, energy and renewables, health care, financial services, tourism and education; ensuring underrepresented groups such as women with young children, older Canadians and Indigenous peoples have the opportunity to tap their full economic potential by participating in the workforce.

But he became most passionate when giving advice on what to study while at university. “Please take philosophy courses,” he urged, especially for those students planning to go into the business world. “You’ll need them in the years ahead.”

Indeed, Canada needs all of the arts, social sciences and humanities to build an inclusive, innovative, democratic and prosperous society and economy.

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences welcomes the Government of Canada’s recognition that economic growth and innovation in Canada must be inclusive. Solutions to many of the most pressing problems facing the world today can be found in the classrooms, labs, communities and collaborative spaces where humanities and social sciences faculty and graduate students conduct their research and teach.

Researchers in the arts and humanities are building new creative industries; generating new knowledge about ethics that inform public policy on issues such as assisted dying and the adoption of new technologies; preserving Canada’s cultural and linguistic heritage; contributing to broad-based understanding of the human condition; and, sparking the creativity and imagination that help question the status quo and improve the lives of Canadians.

In the social sciences, faculty and students are exploring how to continue welcoming immigrants and refugees to our country, and how best to support their integration into Canadian society; advancing reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples; developing new ways to educate young Canadians so that they learn about our past, present and future; helping Canada transition to a low-carbon future; and, developing new tools so that our diverse and multicultural country can strengthen inclusion and citizenship.

The humanities and social sciences are key to helping Canadians deal with our complex, changing global world. Transformative solutions must come from all disciplines — from knowledge about science, engineering and health, but also from our understanding of history, culture, society and human behaviour.

As Budget 2017 approaches, the Federation urges the Government of Canada to ensure its investments and long-term economic and fiscal policy reflect all the needs of an inclusive economy and society. That means developing a long-term plan for sustained, predictable, multi-year investment in fundamental research through the federal granting councils, with funding for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council no longer lagging behind those of other, equally important research areas.

The Federation is ready to engage with the government to discuss long-term approaches to funding research, once the report of the independent panel review on fundamental science, chaired by David Naylor, is released. A robust discussion on how to transform collaborative, multidisciplinary and often global research, and work at the intersection of disciplines, will be an important part of any future research and innovation strategy.

Now is also the time to look at new ways to attract world-level talent to Canada — leading researchers, scholars and international students. We urge the Government to ensure that any investments in talent — both international and Canadian — include the humanities and social sciences that are so vital to Canada’s future success.

And as we advise the government to invest in long-term research funding, it’s important to continue to take significant steps forward in many critical areas for Canada. While our country has made progress in repairing relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, more must be done by all Canadians. Investments in the skills and talents of Indigenous people will help to ensure they can reach their full potential. The Federation recommends that Budget 2017 include significant funding increases to support Indigenous K-12 education and to programs that provide opportunities for more Indigenous students to pursue post-secondary studies. Greater financial support for graduate and post-graduate Indigenous peoples is also vital to the development of scholars, advancement of Indigenous knowledge, and research by and with Indigenous peoples.

Critical, too, is ensuring young Canadians especially have a clearer path to connect with the workforce through meaningful, paid work-integrated learning experiences. Making sure all students — including those in the humanities and social sciences — can access such programs will help build Canada’s resilient, adaptable and innovative workforce. In particular, the Federation urges the government to make sure its own program – the Post-Secondary Industry Partnership and Cooperative Placement Initiative, introduced in Budget 2016 — is extended to include students from all social sciences and humanities.

As Dominic Barton’s advisory council reminds us, now is the time for bold ideas and ambition. Strong post-secondary institutions and research will help our country meet the challenges of the future. We will need leading-edge faculty and learners to make sure our society and economy remain tolerant, diverse and inclusive.

Across the country, researchers and students in the humanities and social sciences are helping Canadians deal with a complex, changing world. As prime minister Trudeau recently reminded us, “Diversity is Canada’s strength.” That diversity is needed not only in our society and economy, but also in the new ideas, understanding and innovation that our universities and their graduates deliver.

Christine Tausig Ford is the interim executive director of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

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