As originally published in the Canadian Association of University Research Administrators Newsletter.
Applied research – which is driven by community needs – in Canada’s colleges and polytechnics enhances the applied
learning experience of the students (all undergraduates), broadens and deepens the experience of the instructors and
serves to enhance the curriculum; while adding value in (and benefit to) the local economy.
Since most full-time instructors generally have 20 or so contact hours per week, they themselves have limited time to dedicate to applied research. Therefore, students play an integral role in applied research since they are often hired (at rates which can exceed what a postdoctoral student would receive from a granting council) to carry out applied research (under the supervision of the instructor or a dedicated research professional). And, of course, more and more students have the opportunity to undertake classroom-based applied research activities – especially in capstone courses. Student engagement also results in the availability of highly-qualified skilled personnel for the
workforce; and enhances the accessibility for SMEs who may not have in-house R&D capabilities.
Colleges routinely grant their applied research clients commercial rights to project research results, while retaining rights for further research and education purposes (this is also an expectation of the Tri-Council).
Therefore, there is ample opportunity to integrate learnings into curriculum – be it an existing or new course, a workshop, or customized training. This is normally led by the Schools (or
Colleges and Institutes Canada (1) reported that in 2012-13 more than 29,000 students were involved in applied research – a ten-fold increase in participation over the last five years. This translates to nearly 13 students for every faculty, staff, industrial expert and technician involved in applied research.
And Polytechnics Canada data (2) shows that since 2007/08 nearly 46,000 students have been involved in hands-on applied research projects, supplementing the efforts of more
than 5,200 staff and faculty; servicing the needs of nearly 7,000 Canadian companies (93% of which were SMEs).
Some best practices for supporting college faculty and student
engagement in applied research (3) are:
- faculty release time and/or salary top-up;
- student salary or research grant (direct to student);
- student placement salary support (direct to employer);
- provision of materials, supplies, equipment and facility access; and
- enabling technology diffusion and transfer, including travel to conferences and workshops.
In this regard, the lessons learned (over the last decade) at Red River College include:
- flexible intellectual property policy incents industry engagement;
- students and instructors are integral and essential components in responding to community needs;
- supportive government policies and programs have helped to build college applied research capacity, but there are limited supports for non-degree college student engagement (other than the Tri-Council’s College and Community Innovation Program);
employ students (at market rates) to work on industry applied research projects;
- use internal and external grants to engage students, as well as capstone projects and competitions;
- partner with other academic institutions; and hire students in the applied research office (i.e. “walk the talk”).
In closing, at CAURA’s Got Talent! (June 2014), the panel on student engagement in applied research in the colleges and polytechnics identified key outcomes as “increased skill acquisition and development; the ability to apply learning to real world contexts; and increased employability (and employment)”
(1): Applied Research at Colleges and Institutes 2012-13. Colleges and Institutes Canada. http://www.collegesinstitutes.ca/what-wedo/ appliedresearch-2/scan-2012-13/ downloaded September 11, 2014.
(2): Polytechnics Canada Applied Research Metrics 2013/14.July 1, 2014
(3) Eligible costs under the Tri-Council’s College and Community Innovation Program, administered by NSERC.