The new applied research trailblazers

This op-ed was initially published in Canadian Innovation News.


This fall, Colleges and institutes Canada (CICan) hosted its latest Applied research symposium in Ottawa, which was a wonderful opportunity to hear from experts and leaders in research from across the country, but perhaps most importantly, from students. This event has proved the perfect opportunity to present a national Student Innovation Showcase on Parliament Hill, and every year, high profile guests are amazed by the depth and scope of the projects on display.

From exploring new sources of biofuels and creating new community engagement tools for police officers using video games and augmented reality, to building a probe that can detect brain cancer, this year’s projects were truly awe-inspiring. It is incredible to see this sophisticated research being led by students and it speaks volumes about Canadian colleges and institutes’ growing contribution to our country’s innovation ecosystem.

Applied research at colleges and institutes is relatively new – it has only been about a decade since they have been able to receive any significant federal government funding for research activity, which makes this level of ingenuity all the more impressive.

In many ways, this new generation of innovators is setting the stage for a new approach to research that is more hands-on and collaborative than ever before. With industry or community partners always involved, the applied research projects that are happening at colleges and institutes always aim to solve practical challenges with real-life implications.

It’s no surprise then that all types of partners are taking note. Last year alone, Canadian colleges and institutes led over 7,300 research partnerships.

Whether it’s making local businesses more efficient or helping communities deal with on-going challenges, student researchers have the chance to blaze new trails with each project. Their reach is also often global, supporting a growing number of international partnerships or working on some of the latest emerging technologies that are reshaping the future of work around the world.

Canada’s Colleges and institutes benefit from a nimble approach to research with impacts that are often very quick to materialize – in fact, last year they produced over 1400 prototypes, 700 products, 500 processes, and 350services. It is a very dynamic sector that has evolved rapidly to serve its partners.

Recognition has increased quickly too – Budget 2018’s significant investment of $140 million over five years for the College and Community Innovation Program (CCIP) recognizes the distinct role that colleges and institutes play in the research space.

This investment will support many new research collaborations and, most importantly, it will help secure Canada’s leadership in the global innovation ecosystem.


Denise Amyot, President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada