Thursday, 5 July 2012

NRC staff enraged by gift cards

NRC staff enraged by gift cards: ..."Have a doughnut on your way out the door. That is the message several dozen employees of the National Research Council took away June 29 as the president of the agency issued gift cards for a coffee and a doughnut to all employees, including 65 who are being laid off this month.
"Thank you for the contribution you have made in helping NRC successfully work through our massive transformation," read the letter from NRC president John McDougall. "To celebrate our success in gaining government support, here is a token of appreciation: have a coffee and a doughnut on me."
A $3 gift card to Tim Hortons accompanied each letter to more than 4,000 NRC employees. It cost taxpayers more than $12,000.
Some of the employees being laid off received the gift card on their last day of work. Most others had their last day July 2.
"Talk about a kick in the teeth," said one NRC employee, who asked not to be identified. The employee, who is not losing their job, said the emotion in the NRC offices as the letters were received ranged from fury to tears.
"It was awful."".... "For more than a year, the NRC has been changing the research it does to accommodate a federal government request to focus mostly on commercially viable research. The recent budget specifically plans to refocus the NRC toward "research that helps Canadian businesses develop innovative products and services.""
For those of you who wish to read more about the recent changes at NRC here are a couple of good reads: "So Mr. McDougall is moving the venerable 94-year-old institution away from pure “curiosity research” toward work on a cluster of key scientific challenges that have the potential to drive Canada’s economy. So far, the short list of four flagship projects, or “big ideas,” includes research into higher-output wheat strains, printable electronics, composite materials made from biomass and CO2-ingesting algae." "Canada's national government research and development agency is being transformed and "refocused" into a service that provides solutions for businesses, Canada's Minister of State for Science and Technology announced Tuesday. Gary Goodyear says he envisions the National Research Council becoming a "concierge" service that offers a single phone number to connect businesses to all their research and development needs, as recommended in a report by an expert panel last fall.
"It will be hopefully a one-stop, 1-800, 'I have a solution for your business problem,'" Goodyear said Tuesday, following a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa.
"It will be the powerhouse that takes the ideas from wherever they come from… and literally pushes those ideas into the marketplace through our business communities, as well as respond to the needs of the business community by providing, for example, research capacity and solutions." The panel that recommended changes to the NRC, led by Tom Jenkins, executive chairman and chief strategy officer of Waterloo, Ont.-based Open Text, was asked to address a persistent problem — Canada spends more than most countries to help businesses create new products. But it hasn't been paying off, and the participation of Canadian businesses in research and development is still lagging.
The National Research Council, founded in 1916, is a government agency dedicated to research and development through more than 20 institutes and national programs specialized in areas ranging from plant biotechnology to aerospace to fuel cells. It has more than 4,000 staff across Canada.
Goodyear acknowledged that originally, the NRC was developed to do basic research. But he said that was before Canada developed research strength at its universities."
And this is the link to a recent speech he gave at the 2012 Canadian Nuclear Association Conference and Trade Show where he outlines his vision of steering the council away from basic science:
Also see: "Back issues of Research Money newsletter — which unfortunately you can’t read unless you pay them quite a bit to subscribe — contain restructuring proposals by people who have credentials and experience to spare. These ideas and more have been given no hearing. Long-standing NRC advisory boards have not been called to meet. Consultation, if it deserves such a name, has been with very few and those unrecognized. The tone of the March memo is very much about doing it his way or taking the Queensway. “Those who are still hesitant will need our help to develop their courage and conviction,” he writes. “We require the right attitude and the right behaviour.”
Mr. McDougall stands as high with this government as any conservative Albertan has a right to. It’s reasonable to assume that whatever stamp he wants to put on NRC will stick. If the strategy looks to be succeeding it will probably crown centennial celebrations for the 95-year-old Council.
But there are considerable reservations about the predictable consequences of this change. The first is that big projects attract big players and big players tend to shoulder out smaller fry. So the outlook for SMEs that want access to NRC’s expertise is not bright. Already smaller companies are finding NRC’s fee schedule and rules of engagement onerous. Fees starting at $200 an hour escalate for ‘overtime’. Royalty rates for IP reach 48% of licensee profits. One recent applicant wanted to take IP that is resting on a shelf unused at NRC and adapt it for a market opportunity the company had identified. The company would have to do further tests to make sure the technology would work in the intended application. NRC’s response was to ask for a $25,000 fee on signing an agreement, with royalties based on sales (not profits as previously) and with minimum annual payments starting at $10,000 in Year 3 and escalating thereafter.
This is of critical moment because NRC has always been the essential provider of science and tech services to small business in Canada. NRC has expertise and equipment far beyond the resources of small companies."
While there may have been issues that needed to be addressed at NRC, the concern is whether steering it away from basic science is the right move, some questions that come to mind are: 1. shouldn't the federal government fund the science that benefits all of people equally, the type of science (basic science often requires national facilities) that is impossible to perform by universities alone? 2. should the scientists be also salespersons for partnerships with private companies? 3. wouldn't attracting private sector to NRC flagship programs mean selective corporate welfare (selective companies get taxpayer support)? 4. wouldn't lack of funding/support for basic science mean that the issue of brain drain will even become worse? 5. how could one plan innovation? how often in the history of science and technology major scientific discoveries were made entirely by accident and motivated by general curiosity? wouldn't it be better to invest in a diverse manner across many areas to ensure that there will some substantial gain when one of them hits the jackpot? 6. Is always the return on research defined by the money it makes? what about training HQP and the impact that has throughout the society? 7. wouldn't working only on a handful of programs be shortsighted? what if there are major discoveries in these areas or others that would mean it is time to work on something else? 8. shouldn't government funded science be independent from business? shouldn't it be that the science that leads the business? feel free to post more questions as they come to mind or answers to any of these...

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