Driving innovation and economic growth in Atlantic Canada

Located in Atlantic Canada, the ocean supercluster will enable Canada to assume an important role in oceanographic research and meet economic and environmental challenges. istock.com

Located in Atlantic Canada, the ocean supercluster will enable Canada to assume an important role in oceanographic research and meet economic and environmental challenges. istock.com

There are many arguments in favour of studying in Atlantic Canada, and the region’s universities attract students from the local population as well as across Canada and worldwide. A recent survey by the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) of international graduates, for example, showed that 94 per cent felt welcome as new arrivals, 84 per cent made close friends in their communities, and 77 per cent said Atlantic Canada is a place they would like to work and live after graduation.

This is welcome news for a region where population growth lags behind the national average and the median age is creeping ever higher. An aging and declining population is the most critical issue facing Atlantic Canada, and the Atlantic Growth Strategy is primarily focused on “population and immigration,” says Peter Halpin, executive director of the AAU, a voluntary association of the 16 Atlantic universities. “Political representatives and community leaders are increasingly recognizing that our universities are the best source of new immigrants for the region.”

With 14,000 international students from over 100 countries studying on campuses across the region, Atlantic universities are already punching above their weight, says Mr. Halpin, yet not all graduates who want to stay find suitable career opportunities. “That’s one of the big challenges we face with both international and domestic students. Graduates go where the jobs are,” he says. “To retain more graduates, we need a more robust economic climate.”

The announcement earlier this year that the ocean supercluster was among the winners of the federal government’s supercluster initiative, which aims to accelerate the development of select innovation-driven industrial agglomerations across Canada, was greeted with enthusiasm in Atlantic Canada, says Mr. Halpin. “We are fortunate to have a number of research-intensive universities with significant capacity in oceans research and strong partnerships with the private sector.”

Dr. Roseann O’Reilly Runte, president and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), says, “Atlantic Canada offers a stellar example of several provincial and municipal governments, small communities, local businesses, universities and colleges working together to build on their strengths to meet economic and environmental challenges.”

Among the assets that helped to place the ocean supercluster among the recipients of government funding is the CFI-supported Ocean Tracking Network, which provides an important link in an ecosystem that produces excellent research, helps boost the regional economy and advances solutions to environmental issues, explains Dr. Runte. “There is little doubt that this contributed to the successful supercluster in the Maritimes, and it definitely has enabled Canada to assume an important role in oceanographic research. A nation stretching from sea to sea to sea must explore, study, protect and develop this precious resource.”

Robert Orr, managing director of Cuna del Mar, one of the supercluster’s key industry partners, says, “The government’s investment in the ocean supercluster will position Canada as a global leader in the ocean economy of the future. It catalyzes unprecedented private investment in collaborative innovation across Canada’s ocean sectors, including energy, food and bio products, shipping, defence and ocean technology. This will kick start new partnerships, innovations and economic opportunities.”

In addition to addressing pressing challenges facing oceans and related industries, the initiative “will have a significant impact on the future of the region, including the potential of attracting students and future citizens,” says Mr. Halpin.

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