UBC President's Speeches and Writings

Universitas 21 global ideas roundtable 2011

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Universitas 21 Global Ideas Roundtable May 19, 2011 Stephen J. Toope, President and Vice-Chancellor The University of British Columbia  Good afternoon. No doubt you’ve all heard the phrase: “It takes a village to raise a child.” The phrase became part of the mainstream lexicon after the 1994 release of a popular book by children's author Jane Cowen-Fletcher, a former Peace Corps worker in Benin, West Africa. The book is entitled: It Takes a Village, and it tells the story of Yemi, a young African girl who goes anxiously searching for her younger brother Kokou, only to discover that the rest of the village was watching over him all along.  It’s a story that compellingly underscores the practical wisdom of community life. For the purposes of today’s discussion, I want to offer a twist on this time-tested maxim, as follows: It takes a community to foster innovation. Universitas 21 Global Ideas Roundtable May 19, 2011  Page 2 of 11   If we consider innovation to be a wandering child, then the metaphorical villagers are the essential members of our research communities – academia, governments, industry and civil society organizations. The unfortunate difference, however, is that these community members don’t always accept their roles in raising a child as willingly as the villagers who watched over Kokou.  By now, you’ve likely guessed that my key message is that encouraging greater levels of community collaboration is key to enhancing research productivity in our societies.  In so doing, I wouldn’t be telling you anything you didn’t already know. The mystery code that we are all trying to crack, however, is how we go about doing that.  I am pleased to say that recent experiences at the University of British Columbia have given me cause for optimism. I don’t mean to stand here before you and cry Eureka – I believe there is far more work ahead than behind – but I am optimistic that many of us are on the right track toward achieving richer levels of Universitas 21 Global Ideas Roundtable May 19, 2011  Page 3 of 11  engagement and collaboration with, and among, our research partners. I would like to share what I hope are some encouraging examples.  Like many of our Canadian sister institutions, UBC has experienced steady year- over-year growth in research funding for some time now.  In the most recent fiscal year, our total research funding was roughly 550 million dollars, which represented an increase of approximately 11 per cent from the previous year. What company wouldn’t be happy with an 11 per cent annual revenue increase? The bad news for Canada is that the primary source of this growth continues to be our federal and provincial governments, which provided a full two-thirds of the total amount.  Support from non-profit sources (mostly medical charities) accounted for just under 110 million – an encouraging figure – but it is Industry that stands out as the reluctant villager, accounting for just 47 million dollars, or less than nine per cent. And UBC is far ahead of most other Canadian universities on this measure.  Universitas 21 Global Ideas Roundtable May 19, 2011  Page 4 of 11  The years from 1996 to 2003 were the golden years in some ways, with our government steering increasingly more resources to our three federal research granting agencies, and creating new programs to fund both talent and infrastructure.  Thanks in some part to the influence of my predecessor, Dr. Martha Piper, the Canada Research Chairs program was founded in 2000, a program of professorships and chairs to attract and retain some of the most accomplished and promising minds. Like all successful institutions, UBC operated on the belief that talented people are by far the most important asset, and would provide a solid foundation upon which subsequent success could be built. Of the total 1,800 Canada Research Chair holders across Canada, UBC is presently home to 185, just over 10 per cent.  In order to support our country’s growing talent base, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation was established, a complimentary program to the Canada Research Universitas 21 Global Ideas Roundtable May 19, 2011  Page 5 of 11  Chairs, which leveraged considerable matching support for equipment and infrastructure from provincial governments, and from the private sector.  As UBC’s human foundation began to reach critical mass, its sails caught further wind by the establishment of specialized on-campus services to assist in the development of top-quality proposals and provide administrative and strategic support for UBC researchers pursuing major awards. The combined efforts have yielded some promising results, with UBC consistently attracting 8-9 per cent of Canada’s total government research funding. To put this figure into context, there are 95 universities in Canada, including 15 major medical-doctoral institutions.  If this sounds boastful, it isn’t intended to be. These strategies were envisioned long before my arrival in 2006, and other Canadian universities have posted strong results. The point is that after a long period of growth, both organically and by acquisition, UBC is today equipped with an enviable number of accomplished faculty and students, who are in turn attracting increasingly larger research Universitas 21 Global Ideas Roundtable May 19, 2011  Page 6 of 11  awards, as well as like-minded colleagues and graduate students from other countries.  Case in point – almost exactly a year ago today, UBC and its affiliated research institutes welcomed Dr. Matthew Farrer as its first Canada Excellence Research Chair in Neurogenetics and Translational Neuroscience. The Canada Excellence Research Chair program is our federal government’s newest program, one that was established in 2008 to help build a critical mass of expertise in strategic areas. For each chair, universities receive up to $10 million over seven years to support chair holders and their teams. Professor Farrer - of English origin - joined the UBC Faculty of Medicine from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida and is now establishing research teams and laboratories to study the molecular origins of brain diseases and pioneer new strategies for early detection.  What we can conclude from all of this is that our federal government clearly sees the value of research. Our provincial government gets it too. And as we have seen with increasing frequency, high-wealth individuals and foundations are joining the Universitas 21 Global Ideas Roundtable May 19, 2011  Page 7 of 11  party, many of whom are seeking to fulfill legacy ambitions to leave the world a little better off at the time they leave it than when they entered it.  Industry, as the figures suggest, still doesn’t get it. Ironically though, it is within this sector that we now see signs of light.  Significant changes in the global innovation landscape have prompted our Industry Liaison Office, already a Canadian pioneer, to adapt its practices in response to emerging sectors and changes to open innovation and knowledge sharing.  Gone are the days of chasing the next big thing in the isolation of our labs and libraries. In all too many cases the companies we created were short-lived, the synergies – if they existed – were fleeting, and longer-term interests were left unfulfilled.  Universitas 21 Global Ideas Roundtable May 19, 2011  Page 8 of 11  We are therefore transitioning from churning out patents and license agreements to more flexible modes of industry engagement and knowledge mobilization, matched with full-on promotion of entrepreneurial pursuits amongst our students and faculty. We are matching our strengths with the needs of not just industry, but also government, public administrators and non-profits – and not at the middle or end points of the innovation continuum, but at the beginning, offering our partners a living laboratory in which, together, we are developing technologies for global markets and public service.  I have three examples. First, Dolby Laboratories, a global innovator and provider of audio, imaging, and voice technologies recently acquired UBC spin-off Brightside Technologies, thereby entering its first major engagement with a university. The result is the creation of the Dolby Canada Research and Development Centre in Vancouver, a Dolby Computer Science Research Chair at UBC and a Dolby Professorship in Digital Media.  Universitas 21 Global Ideas Roundtable May 19, 2011  Page 9 of 11  Vancouver-based firm Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies, a UBC spin-off founded in 2005 by UBC Professor Don Mavinic, has commercialized a slow release fertilizer which is in high demand worldwide and is used to improve nutrient loads in rivers with depleted fish stocks. Incidentally, Professor Mavinic is not a biologist, but a civil engineer who initially set out to resolve the problem of phosphorous based composites clogging up municipal sewer systems. His solution enables water treatment plants to run more efficiently, not by flushing harmful sewage phosphorus into the ocean, but by harvesting it and processing it into a fertilizer that is proving to be the best method yet for turning endangered streams into “live zones” that help replenish our threatened salmon populations.  Here is a superb example of university researchers collaborating with governments to address a practical challenge on the one hand; a key environmental issue on the other; create a viable global enterprise on yet another, and introduce new research opportunities for UBC students all at the same time.  Universitas 21 Global Ideas Roundtable May 19, 2011  Page 10 of 11  One final example that exemplifies what we hope is an emerging trend: when our provincial government implemented ambitious sustainability targets in 2008, a new impetus was created for government, academia and industry to work together to increase sustainability understanding, and to boost the province’s emerging clean-tech industry. One result is UBC’s BioEnergy Research and Demonstration Project - a biomass gasification system fuelled by naturally occurring waste wood that will generate over 10 percent of the total heat and electricity needs of the campus.  The project is a collaboration between UBC; our federal and provincial governments; Vancouver based Nexterra Systems Corporation, and GE Water & Power. This partnership has resulted in an accelerated product development platform for Nexterra, while also creating a living laboratory for clean energy learning and research for UBC.
  Our university has indeed been fortunate in benefiting from the far-sightedness of our governments, which has enabled us to build the critical mass of human assets that are the cornerstone of our success. But while governments continue to provide support, we must endeavour to promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in all sectors of the economy, not just within industry circles, Universitas 21 Global Ideas Roundtable May 19, 2011  Page 11 of 11  but also social agencies, non-profit enterprises, public administration, health-care institutions and other universities.  We must continue efforts to convince public and private organizations to see themselves as collaborators – members of an engaged and caring community intent on leveraging capabilities and capital from all sources.  The moral of the story is that Innovation – like children – symbolizes our shared aspirations for tomorrow. Let us take what we have learned, and raise them both to be secure and healthy.  Thank you.


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