Naylor on the knowledge economy

David Naylor, the University of Toronto’s president, delivers a speech on research, innovation, and Canada’s business culture that’s eerily similar to a column I published last week. Drawing from some of the same sources I used, Naylor makes a few points that should simply become common currency among people who want to discuss how Canada can use ideas to improve its economic performance:

• The post-recession economy will have lower global growth potential than the pre-recession economy. So it’s important not to forgo potential productivity gains.

• Canada has a long history of forgoing potential productivity gains.

• It’s tempting to be complacent about our level of educational attainment. We have high post-secondary-education participation rates only because we have a lot of people in community colleges. Our university attendance is middle-of-the-OECD-pack and our grad-school attainment sucks.

• Science, engineering, technology and math aren’t the only useful disciplines of study. The humanities and business education are important too. Just ask Jim Balsillie.

• It’s important, not only to have broad-based research funding, but special incentives to attract leaders in their fields. In that regard, “Hat’s off on this score to the federal government for introducing 500 new Vanier Scholarships for doctoral students. Valued at $50,000 per year, and desiged to compete with Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships, these top-tier awards for domestic and international graduate students send a very positive signal about Canada’s commitment to nurturing outstanding talent.”

• “We can and must get the three federal Granting Councils back on a modest growth trajectory” to insure all those shiny new taxpayer-funded labs are used to full capacity by the best investigators. But it’s business performance of R&D, not university research, where Canada seriously lags.

• The biggest challenge isn’t this or that program or institution, but a risk-averse culture that has to change.

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