How To Fund Innovation
Just over a year ago, I wrote an opinion pieceÂ about the federal government’s “innovation strategy” andÂ its impact onÂ the post-secondary education sector. In the piece,Â I argue that the strategy has resulted in significant funding increases for university R&D.Â But I also argue in the piece that the strategy creates winners and losers–i.e. a “world class” doctoral student might get a $50,000/yr. scholarship, whileÂ student debt for most university students has increased very substantially in Canada since the mid-1990s.
Yesterday’s Globe and Mail features an articleÂ that I believe further highlights the inequities in this strategy. I think it also calls into question whether CanadianÂ taxpayers are in fact getting bang for their buck.
On the issue of equity, the Globe and Mail article tells the story of Anand Agarawala, a University of Calgary student who benefited from a $20,000 university fellowship for assistance in developing his business, which he’s just sold to Google for a cool $30 million. I’m happy for Mr. Agarawala’s success, and I’m guessing that our taxation system will easily recoup the $20,000 and then some in light of the recent deal. But try telling that to a student working three jobs in order to pay record tuition levels in Ontario.
The Globe and Mail article also features the following excerpt:
“About 12 per cent of 2005 Canadian PhD graduates were living in the U.S. by 2007, and 21 per cent intended to leave Canada, according to a recent Statistics Canada study.Â So-called knowledge workers tend to be mobile, and some, like Mr. Agarawala, will always move away.”
In light of this phenomenon (and the apparent “leakage” that it creates), I wonder if the federal government’s current innovation strategy is a wise use of tax dollars.
I think I’d prefer to see innovation funding directed towards theÂ development of the kind ofÂ sectoral development policy advocated in the CCPA’s Alternative Federal Budget; that kind of “innovation”Â policy wouldÂ have a clear focus on creating well-paying, secureÂ jobsÂ in Canada, rather than onÂ turning our computer science students into Silicon Valley superstars.
Nick Falvo is a Calgary-based research consultant. He has a PhD in public policy.