Global Society

The world's science fair converges on Vancouver

OTTAWA AND VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Villy Christensen will be presenting "The Oracle Meets Nereus: Answering Policy Questions About the Future Ocean"at the AAAS meeting in Vancouver. (Martin Dee/Martin Dee)

For the first time in three decades, Canada will play host to one of the world’s most prestigious international conferences on scientific research – and hopefully, entice bright minds from around the globe to study here.

The meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which will be held in Vancouver this week starting Thursday, will showcase the work of scientists from more than 50 countries.

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The timing couldn’t have been better, said Paul Davidson, the president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. The federal government and universities across the country have stepped up their efforts to lure international students.

“It’s a great chance for us to show the world how far Canadian research has come forward, since the conference was last here in 1981,” Mr. Davidson said.

The theme of the conference – flattening the world: building a global knowledge society – reflects the globalization of science, as has occurred in other fields such as communications, technology and business.

The conference is expected to hear from speakers in more than 170 sessions, with topics ranging from autism to obesity to new technologies for tracking marine animals.

As more countries recognize that science is the fuel for innovation and economic growth, they need to work together, the AAAS’s chief executive officer, Alan Leshner, said Wednesday in an interview.

“Multinational collaboration is the norm. It is no longer an exception,” he said. “Even though governments compete with each other, national scientific communities are really much less competitive,” Mr. Leshner said.

But with billions of dollars at stake – international students brought in $6.5-billion in fees to Canada in 2008 – universities are scrambling to get more of the international share of the knowledge economy.

Brazil has set a research expenditure target of 2.5 per cent of its GDP by 2022, while India’s National Innovation Council plans to create a $1-billion (U.S.) fund to spur innovation in key industrial sectors.

As part of Canada’s research and innovation strategy, Ottawa has committed $10-million in the 2011 budget to attract more students from overseas.

Mr. Leshner said discussions at the conference will deal with efforts to develop a more coherent and compatible system for global co-operation on research. For example, he said, members of the scientific community would like to take research grants with them when they move to another country to continue their research.

University of Western Ontario professor Marco Prado will present methods on how to attract more students from Brazil at the conference on Friday. He said Canada needs to work on its funding model for these global partnerships.

“There are very few, if any, shared research grant collaborations between Canada and Brazil,” said Dr. Prado, who first came to Canada as a Brazilian student. “If we had more, then more students would come here.”

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