Canadian brain gain policies are bearing fruit, says sector chief

Further policies to attract foreign researchers will boost efforts to recruit top talent to Canadian universities, explains Universities Canada president

April 9, 2019
Source: Alamy

New bespoke immigration assistance for academics considering a move to Canada will help to continue the steady influx of research talent into the country following the election of Donald Trump, the head of Universities Canada has said.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, which represents 96 higher education institutions, said plans to invest C$200 million (£114 million) in immigration services unveiled in last month’s federal government budget would consolidate his country’s reputation as a welcoming place for foreign academics.

Under the plans, some C$78.6 million has been assigned to help improve the processing of Canadian work and study permits, as well as visitor visas, including the creation of a unit to handle applications from foreign researchers.

“Having this kind of concierge service for academics and their spouses will certainly help them get through our immigration process more quickly,” said Mr Davidson, who said that the budget changes “were entirely symptomatic of a system that wants to show it is open for business” to foreign researchers.

The budget plan is Canada’s latest initiative to bring top research talent to its universities. In March 2017, its government announced new funding worth C$117 million to recruit world-class professors from around the world under its Canada 150 Research Chairs programme, with the one-time funding scheme offering professors up to C$1 million a year depending on their research.

“We’ve had 200 serious applications for these 25 posts – including many from Nobel-quality researchers – so it’s proved attractive for many truly world-class academics,” said Mr Davidson.

Having universities capable of attracting this level of researcher was testament to the strong progress of Canada’s research system, he added.

“We are still a young country and, 50 years ago, it would have been audacious to think we would have the set of universities we do. Even 20 years ago, it would have seemed unlikely,” he said.

Asked if Canada had benefited from US academics leaving America to escape the Trump administration, Mr Davidson said this was a factor for some incoming scholars.

“However, the Trump administration has kept research funding high, so there has not been the exodus [of researchers] that some predicted,” said Mr Davidson.

Mike Mahon, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta, told THE that one US researcher recruited under the Canada 150 Research Chairs programme had left the US, citing President Trump’s election.

“We recruited someone from the University of Texas who brought his entire research team with him – his computing needs actually doubled the computing capacity of the entire university,” he said, adding that he “absolutely came because of [Trump]”.

President Trump has also recently sought to impose fixed time limits on student visas – a move that many believe will see more international students head to Canada, where numbers have grown four-fold to 500,000 since 2000. That number could double to 1 million over the next decade, partly because of Canada’s generous post-study work visa arrangements, experts believe.

That, however, will not be a source of concern for Canadians, believes Professor Mahon, Universities Canada’s chair. “As a big country with a lot of capacity, we’ve grown and benefited hugely from immigration – this is just another step.”

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

"the Trump administration has kept research funding high"? High? Really? The USG spends 0.8% of GDP on R&D. China spends 2.5% of a much larger GDP on its R&D, which is why Huawei.

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