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“secure” talent pipelines, as research risk mitigation welcomed

The list of named research organisations posing a threat is part of an initiative the government has announced in a bid to protect Canadian research and the higher education sector.

Authorities have also published a list of sensitive technology research areas, which ministers say will allow researchers to self-assess whether their proposed research is within its scope.

Ministers said that the openness of Canadian-led research can make it a target for foreign influence.

“Canadian research is at the forefront of discovery, and today’s work is driving solutions to humanity’s most pressing challenges,” three ministers said in a joint statement last week. “Protecting Canadian research is our top priority.”

The collaborative nature of Canadian research can increase the “potential risks for research and development efforts to be misappropriated to the detriment of national security”, they added.

Other measures designed to safeguard Canadian research are a policy on Sensitive Technology Research and Affiliations of Concern, a new Research Security Centre first announced in the 2022 Budget and a $50 million investment in support via the Research Support Fund.

The guidance is designed to allow researchers to “quickly and efficiently” determine if these new requirements apply to the scope of their research and their grant applications, ministers said.

Universities Canada said that the announcement provides clarity and “complements universities’ existing measures to protect Canadian research”.

“International partnerships are essential for Canada to remain competitive on the world stage, and universities are committed to ensuring all Canadian research remains secure,” interim president and CEO, Philip Landon, said.

Research security offices, cooperation with government and security agencies on security guidelines, limiting partnerships of concern, raising risk awareness and implementing travel security measures are all effective means of protection, he explained.

The new security measures should be coupled with increased support for new research opportunities, “as has been done successfully in peer countries such as the US”, Landon added.

“Canada must continue to attract and welcome secure international partnerships and talented researchers from abroad, and ensure today’s measures do not lead to discrimination or loss of global competitiveness for Canada.”

It’s a point that executive director of York University International Vinitha Gengatharan was also keen to emphasise.

In recent years, universities have introduced measures to strengthen research security and raise awareness among researchers, she said.

“Canadian universities are committed to developing mutually beneficial, inclusive, and sustainable partnerships and engagement worldwide,” she told The PIE. International partnerships are both essential for Canada to remain globally competitive but also for today’s “borderless grand challenges”, from pandemics to climate change to AI and refugee crises.

“Time and again, we see the benefits of cooperation, collaboration and coordination,” she continued.

However, governments must protect their citizens, safeguard sensitive research, protect IP and ensure citizens and infrastructure are safe from “nefarious state and non-state actors”.

“Time and again, we see the benefits of cooperation, collaboration and coordination”

Canada’s leading research universities “take the importance of securing research from foreign threats extremely seriously”, said U15 Canada’s CEO, Chad Gaffield.

The government measures “build on the longstanding work between universities and the federal government towards the shared responsibility of safeguarding research”.

“This is another step towards hardening Canadian research from malign threats,” he said, but maintained that international research partnerships remain vital.

A “secure and open” research environment is needed to ensure that U15 members are engaged internationally and inclusive for people of all backgrounds, Gaffield concluded.

“As a small country without a critical mass of people, Canada can’t be closed off to the world and find ways to engage the world safely – we must be open and share our research and discovery for mutual benefit,” Gengatharan added.

“Universities understand there are real risks to these international collaborations and not all partners share the same values or intent.”

The fact that the framework and guidelines are limited to research funding, in the Tri-Councils and CFI, is a strength of the policy, she suggested.

The ministerial announcement noted that the federal granting councils and the CFI will not fund research in sensitive technology areas where researchers involved are affiliated with any of the entities that they say pose a risk to Canada’s national security.

Both lists will be “regularly reviewed to keep pace with the latest developments in research”, with more details provided in the coming months.

The policy comes into effect in Spring 2024, but the government said it could immediately take affiliations into account in current funding decisions.

“I wouldn’t want to see the other branches of government starting to use this list as guidance and a screening tool for graduate students and/or other forms of engagement,” Gengatharan added.

“If talent and funding are restricted, Canada will need to invest significantly more in research and incentivise Canadians to engage in fields with a talent shortage in Canada.”



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