College R&D gets NSERC pilot program and revived prospects of more in the future

Guest Contributor
March 3, 2004

The long-standing quest by Canada’s colleges and technical institutes to be included in the national system of innovation received a major boost with the commencement of a pilot program by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Once leverage factors are included, the program could help to inject $3.6 million into six college projects geared towards some aspect of innovation.

The program was previously announced as part of NSERC’s new vision, and is one of six new initiatives that will be launched as pilots over the coming months (R$, October 3/03). Details of the College and Community Innovation Pilot Program (CCIPP) were unveiled at a recent conference of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) in Ottawa.

The first and only scheduled CCIPP competition is now underway with a May 28 deadline. Up to six projects will be awarded $100,000 a year for three years, for a potential NSERC contribution of $1.8 million. Successful projects must match the NSERC funding for the second year from sources outside the institution, and secure double the NSERC base for year three, adding another $1.8 in cash or in-kind.

In purely financial terms, the new program represents a modest step forward for Canada’s community colleges. An S&T task group for the ACCC concluded two years ago that a standalone program for college R&D was warranted. The task group — chaired by Red Deer College president Ron Woodward — called for such a program to be created by the federal government as part of a package of dedicated programs and other mechanisms worth $116 million annually. The federal government has yet to respond to the recommendations, but ACCC president Gerald Brown says the NSERC pilot program will serve as a catalyst for achieving the larger goal.

“This moves the effort forward significantly. It definitely moves the yardsticks to have colleges recognized by NSERC,” says Brown. “The best way to demonstrate the college role in innovation is to do the pilot program. It’s very much a leverage exercise to position ourselves for more funding in the future.”

It’s unclear at this stage whether any future program would be run under the NSERC umbrella. The CCIPP is one of six pilots initiatives the granting agency is undertaking and NSERC’s president has committed to seeking additional funds for those which are deemed to be successful.

The CCIPP is geared towards a wide variety of innovation activities as well as the many challenges college faculty face in finding the time and resources to engage in innovative projects. Eligible activities include:

  • developing new or enhanced products and processes;
  • building and testing prototypes;
  • bringing new knowledge to market;
  • establishing pilot facilities, technology development centres and demonstration sites;
  • building awareness of new and best practice technologies;
  • providing release time to allow faculty members to work on innovation projects;
  • supporting student involvement in projects;
  • outreach to local business and industry;
  • developing tech transfer expertise; and,
  • meeting government regulations.

The CCIPP was developed following a cross-country tour last year by NSERC officials. They visited 25 colleges to see firsthand what kind of innovation-related work was being done and concluded that colleges had a major role to play on the applied research side of the R&D spectrum. NSERC officials also agreed that colleges can lay claim to very strong local ties with industry and considerable expertise in tech transfer.

“Our goal is the same as the college goal,” says Janet Walden, NSERC’s VP research partnerships program directorate. “(With this program) we’re focusing on the proof-of-concept gap ... College R&D is directed towards problem solving. They have good links to the community and industry and have a different approach to training.”

CCIPP projects will be selected through a specially designed peer review process and awards made and funding flowing by September, 2004.


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