MONTREAL (CUP) — Prime Minister Jean Chretien made clear that he wants to leave a strong public education system as part of his legacy in the Speech From the Throne Monday, but commentators in the education community are divided as to whether his policies will deliver.
“[The government] will continue to increase its funding to the federal granting councils to provide young Canadians greater support for graduate studies and research,” said Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, who read the Prime Minister’s speech as per tradition. “It will work with universities on the indirect costs of research and on strategies for its commercialization to create opportunities for entrepreneurs and to fuel innovation.”
“It’s all pretty much more of the same,” said David Robinson, associate executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).
“We’re concerned over the focus on commercialization,” said Robinson. “There are serious implications for the integrity of research and the level of input from the investors.”
Robinson cited the interference Dr. Nancy Olivieri experienced at the University of Toronto as an example of the impact of commercialization on university research. In 1996, Olivieri discovered that a drug she was studying for the international pharmaceutical company Apotex caused liver damage. Apotex tried to prevent Olivieri from releasing her findings, even to the test patients involved in her research.
Robert Best, vice-president national affairs for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), thinks otherwise.
“We were very pleased by the Throne Speech,” he said. “It’s very encouraging.”
Best believes fiascos like the Olivieri case are the exception to the rule when it comes to joint ventures between universities and the private sector.
“The current issue is how the universities set up safeguards to ensure the integrity of their research,” said Best.
Robinson is equally critical of other education-related issues raised in the speech, describing the government’s record on education as a “complete and utter failure.”
“[The government] has just rolled out the so-called “? Agenda of Innovation’ again,” said Robinson. “The Liberal approach to education has ignored the real problem of education: core funding. We haven’t seen any real increases in funding operating costs.”