CanOasis News Alert Oct. 22nd, 1999

G. Dellaire, Ph.D. G.Dellaire at
Sat Oct 23 05:34:42 EST 1999

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CANADIAN UNIVERSITIES: Massive Hiring Plan Aimed at 'Brain Gain'
Science Magazine
Oct. 22, 1999

Massive Hiring Plan Aimed at
'Brain Gain'

Wayne Kondro

OTTAWA--Canadian universities will soon be turned loose on a massive
shopping spree for scientific talent. Prime Minister
Jean Chrétien last week unveiled a US$205 million program to create 2000
new research chairs, calling it a "plan for brain
gain" aimed at reversing a flow of talent to the United States.
University officials applaud the initiative, even if it derives more
from a desire to outflank political foes than to strengthen academic

The issue of "brain drain" is a political hot potato in Canada. Business
leaders have lobbied hard for tax relief, saying that high
taxes have driven Canadian high-tech talent across the 49th parallel.
Chrétien has resisted that argument, declaring just last
month that such flight is "a myth." Indeed, demographers say that Canada
actually enjoys a favorable intellectual trade balance,
and that the outflow to the United States in particular has shrunk by
one-third since the 1950s. But last week, Chrétien
appeared to acknowledge the existence of a brain drain without endorsing
the business community's solution. Rather than lower
taxes, he reasoned, why not give universities the wherewithal to attract
the necessary talent to compete in a global market. "Our
goal is for Canada to be known around the world as the place to be,"
Chrétien told Parliament. "That's particularly [true] at a
time when U.S. universities benefit from both permanent endowments and
the generosity of private foundations out of all
proportion to those of our universities."

The new investment--400 new research chairs in each of the next 3 years
and an additional 800 "as soon as possible
thereafter"--couldn't have come at a more critical moment for
universities, science administrators say. "It's like having the
capacity to build a hockey team with several [Wayne] Gretzkys on it,"
says Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
president Marc Renaud. "It gives [universities] the feeling that they
can grow and compete with the Americans." Medical
Research Council president Henry Friesen called it "a stunning
announcement in positioning Canada's economy to compete on
a world stage."

Each research chair will be awarded for 5 to 7 years and will be
renewable. The allocation will be based on an institution's
success in obtaining competitive research grants. To prevent major
research universities from gobbling up all the funds,
however, small institutions will be guaranteed at least one chair. The
biomedical and natural sciences are each projected to
receive a 40% share, while the social sciences have been promised 20%.

Two types of chairs will be created. The first, intended to liberate
senior scientists from teaching duties, will provide roughly
$140,000 a year for "star researchers with a proven track record."
Universities can spend the money to hire a new investigator,
to top up an existing salary, or to absorb costs associated with
replacing the star in the classroom. They may also funnel it into
indirect costs such as lab operations and utilities. The second
category, which provides about $70,000 for so-called "rising
stars," is intended to attract younger faculty to aging departments.

Whether the new monies will actually stem the brain drain is not clear,
however. In fact, some argue that the problem may not
even exist. Only 1.5% of postsecondary graduates in 1995 went to the
United States for some period of time, says Statistics
Canada director of education statistics Scott Murray, and only one in
eight of them held a Ph.D. Overall, Canada is a net
beneficiary of university graduates, gaining 33,000 university-educated
immigrants annually while losing 8500 to the States.
Immigrants are also three times more likely to hold a master's,
doctoral, or medical degree than the Canadian-born population.
"All of us know some people who've left," says Canadian Association of
University Teachers executive director Jim Turk,
noting the impact of budget cuts on university staffing. "But the plural
of anecdote is not data. At most you can argue there's a
trickle, primarily in the area of health care."

But there's no doubt that Canada has lost some exceptional talent over
the years. For example, seven Canadians who moved
south have subsequently collected Nobels. One of them, Stanford
physicist Richard Taylor--an Alberta native who came to the
United States in the 1950s for graduate school and never returned to
work in Canada--takes issue with the notion that his
career path is a "myth." Taylor, who shared the 1990 Nobel prize for
electron scattering experiments that documented the
existence of quarks, says the factors underlying the exodus are complex.
They include insufficient spending on research, a
relative lack of major research facilities, an unwillingness by Canadian
industry to invest in research, and a culture that disdains
elitism and risk. "It's not greed that drives people to the United
States, it's ambition," he says. If the U.S.-based Canadian
Nobelists had stayed in Canada, he says, "few of them would have won the

Although he welcomes the additional chairs, Taylor says they will be
insufficient without a change of attitude. "It's very hard for
a government, especially a Canadian government, to be elitist," he says.
"But that is what you should be if you want to do a
good job."

Graham Dellaire, Ph.D.

MRC Human Genetics Unit
Western General Hospital
Crewe Road
Edinburgh, UK

Fax: +44 (0)131 343 2620
Phone: +44 (0)131 332 2471

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