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University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera. (John Ulan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera. (John Ulan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada Competes

U of A’s Indira Samarasekera: Canada’s R&D lag costs us Add to ...

Hire the brightest and best coming out of our universities. And learn to be patient. Look at Bell Labs. The transistor came out of Bell Labs, and that’s because, going back many, many years, it was conducting absolutely incredible basic research that led to that discovery. But companies got lost in this notion of quarterly profits, and they lost sight of the need to invest for the longer term. And let me tell you, India, China, Brazil and other emerging economies are doing exactly that. The other thing companies need to do is to invest in frontier research at universities that may not be immediately relevant to the products they’re making, but that are in the general field. Because in the long-term, they will likely benefit. Enlightened companies like Microsoft and Intel stay at the cutting edge by being close to where the frontiers of research are.

What about the role of nations such as India, China and Brazil?

China is the one to watch right now because they have the capacity to invest. China has identified a group of universities they want to be among the top 100 in the world, and they’re investing in those universities, and in key research laboratories, to build their intellectual power. If you look at patents, at one time, the world was at about 400,000 patents per year. Today, it is almost a million per year, and a large portion of those are coming from new and emerging economies. It’s only a matter of time before these patentable ideas are converted to products.

Why is Canada so complacent?

That’s a good question. We have high standard of living. We’ve lived off our natural resources and we have a vast amount of land. We have incredible social programs. All of that has been a benefit to our competitiveness, but it’s becoming a source of our complacency. We have had a lot of advantages because of our natural resources and because of the great talent that has immigrated to this country – people who are highly entrepreneurial and have survived in very difficult circumstance. That spirit of survival and competition exists in this country. We simply have to reignite it. We have to give all Canadians the ability and drive and reasons to strive and to fail and to succeed. That’s the success of the United States: Failure is celebrated, and out of failure comes success. We as a culture are always looking for that quick fix, that big win. But it takes some degree of risk tolerance and the ability to allow people to fail and to learn from those failures to become successful.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


Top 10 business R&D spenders in Canada





2011 R&D


% chg

R&D as

% of


Research In Motion




Bombardier Inc.




BCE Inc.




Magna International




IBM Canada




Pratt & Whitney Canada




Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.




Ericsson Canada




AMD Canada








Source: Research Infosource Inc.


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