The association representing Canada's colleges is asking the federal government to continue building the innovative capacity of its members with a suite of recommendations that, if accepted, would move college R&D funding closer to its long-term goal of securing 5% of the $2.9 billion Ottawa spends on post-secondary research.
The Pre-Budget submission of the Association of Community Colleges of Canada (ACCC) calls for enhanced access to existing funding programs, a dramatic expansion in the number of Technology Access Centres (TACs) outside of Quebec from 18 to 48 and widened eligibility for student research awards to include those in diploma and post-diploma programs.
The submission was made to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance and the recommended actions are intended for the 2014 federal Budget. If successful, it would mark the third year running that colleges and polytechnics have received significant new funding for innovation and skills training. And its recommendation for a College/Institute Equipment and Deferred Maintenance Fund would continue the revitalization of Canada's colleges that began with the 2009 Knowledge Infrastructure Fund which saw $600 million flow to colleges for 246 projects.
"In the area of innovation and commercialization, there's been good support so far and we're confident that the government will be receptive to our recommendations," says Michèle Clarke, ACCC's director of government relations and policy research. "There's a skills gap shortage in many areas and we need more graduates with advanced skills."
The ACCC brief calls for 30 new TACs, based on the long-standing Quebec model where more than 40 centres are attached to local CEGEPs. Clarke says colleges across Canada have expressed interest in the model as a way to more effectively engage with small- and medium-sized business (SMBs), which make up 98% of companies in Canada. Those firms often lack the time and money to engage in innovative projects. The recommendation calls for $10.5 million annually.
The submission also requests $2.5 million a year to support 500 applied research awards "for college and institute students in diploma, post-graduate and degree programs". The new tranche of student awards would be delivered through the Industrial Undergraduate Student Research Awards program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). In the last Budget, the federal government made colleges and institutes eligible for funding under the program but only for students in degree-granting programs.
The ACCC is also seeking new funding from Canada's regional development agencies similar to support currently provided by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. That agency provides money to facilitate applied research partnerships between colleges and SMBs. The submission's public version does not include the proposed cost of such an expansion.
For college infrastructure, the ACCC is proposing further investments to build upon the progress made under the short-term Knowledge Infrastructure Fund.
"That program did a lot of good. It was the first time in 40 years colleges had been funded for infrastructure but there's still a greater need and that includes equipment," says Clarke.
The submission notes that 35% of existing equipment is below standard and the ACCC estimates upgrade needs at $453 million. Deferred maintenance stands at $3.6 billion.
The ACCC submission seeks new funding to encourage more Canadians to attend colleges and institutes, with substantial funding to support students from First Nations students and vulnerable groups (disadvantaged youth, the disabled). The Assembly of First Nations estimates that $724 million is required to satisfy First Nations demand. The ACCC recommends a 10% reduction in federal spending on post-secondary education tax credits and RESP savings programs to increase Canada Study Grants for vulnerable groups.
The ACCC is also recommending $50 million annually to improve mobility for apprentices and make the funding tax exempt. ACCC is hosting a National Skills Summit in Ottawa October 20-21 that will provide a forum for further discussion on the recommendations.