New research plan identifies "signature areas"
After several months of consultation with Departments, Schools and Faculties, Western’s Strategic Research Plan (SRP), first drafted in 2003, has been updated to outline how our campus community will strive to enhance Western’s research reputation among Canada’s leading universities during the next three years. While the 25-page plan in its entirety is available online at http://www.uwo.ca/research/, there are three key features of the new SRP I wish to highlight in this article.
Perhaps the most noteworthy feature is the identification of a limited number of “signature areas” of strength that best define Western’s national research profile.
With annual research income exceeding $220 million, Western (including its newly integrated Robarts Research Institute and its affiliated Lawson Health Research Institute) currently ranks on several measures among Canada’s top ten research-intensive universities. Our University has performed exceptionally well in a range of federal granting programs, including the Canada Foundation for Innovation, ranking seventh overall in Canada and second in Ontario in terms of allocated funding to date.
However, in maintaining and improving upon our current national and international reputation, Western faces an increasingly competitive educational and research environment. The SRP outlines a bold new strategy to focus special attention on ten designated areas of strength: 1) Business; 2) Environmental Sustainability and Green Energy; 3) Health Education; 4) Literature and Cultural Theory; 5) Materials and Biomaterials; 6) Imaging; 7) Music; 8) Neuroscience/Brain and Mind; 9) Philosophy of Science; 10) Wind Engineering and Natural Disaster Mitigation.
These signature areas were identified for bringing Western a measure of recognition and prominence within and beyond our national borders. They often cut across Faculty and disciplinary boundaries, and by defining them as areas of strength, our campus community is effectively agreeing to support them at all levels of the University. Of most significance, signature areas will be given an enhanced profile in Western’s publicity and fund-raising efforts, and in the general presentation of the University to the world beyond our campus.
It is important to emphasize, however, that the designation of signature areas is not intended to exclude the many other areas of research and teaching excellence at Western. All areas of excellence will continue to receive support through existing structures and resources. Indeed, it is expected that other areas of strength will eventually become signature areas in their own right. To support this, the SRP calls for Western’s signature areas to be reviewed on a four-year cycle by the Provost and Vice-President (Research & International Relations).
Another feature of the new SRP is the setting of quantifiable performance targets, specifically within the areas of licensing, commercialization and Tri-Council funding (i.e., Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research).
The new SRP re-affirms two important research goals outlined in Western’s 2006 Strategic Plan, Engaging the Future; namely, that over the next five years we will double the value of contract research work with the private sector, and double the value of licensing and royalty income from Western-based inventions. Last year, Western ranked third among G-13 universities in gross licensing income at $4.8 million, while the value of contract research has more than doubled over the past three years to approximately $14 million annually.
With regard to Tri-Council funding support, Western will aim to achieve rankings of:
- 5th place or better among the G-13 institutions in cumulative Canada Foundation for Innovation research funding (up from 7th place currently)
- 5th place or better among the G-13 institutions in each of the Tri-Council agencies in funding per researcher (up from 7th-10th place nationally, depending upon the program)
- 2nd place among Ontario institutions in cumulative Canada Foundation for Innovation funding, in each of the Tri-Council agencies in both funding per researcher and total annual research funding, and in cumulative Ontario-based research funding (thus maintaining our current 2nd place standing)
A third key feature of the new SRP is our ongoing commitment to enhancing undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral contributions to research. It is central to Western’s mission and identity that “the best student experience” takes place in the context of a major international research university. The SRP articulates several commitments to ensure all students are encouraged and have opportunities to engage in the research endeavour. Those commitments include the development of new graduate programs in areas of our research strength, and our efforts to increase Masters enrolment and double PhD enrolment.
The SRP is intended to be a living document that reflects the priorities of Engaging the Future, and which will continue to be reviewed and updated as circumstances within the University warrant. With the input and commitment of all members of our campus community, we will ensure that the “research-intensive” part of our mission to provide Canada’s best student experience will be fulfilled.