On October 24, the University of Alberta released their five-year Strategic Plan for Research and Innovation (SPRI).
This plan establishes the U of A’s goals and objectives in research and innovation. Additionally, it identifies priority areas for research.
According to Aminah Robinson Fayek, vice-president (research and innovation), this plan is significant because it’s the U of A’s first “pan-institutional” SPRI. This means the plan is meant to serve the entire university.
“It really gives us an architecture and blueprint on what we want to do in the next five years.”
In total, there are six priority research areas: artificial intelligence; health and well-being; energy and environment; Indigenous research; social transformations; and agriculture and food.
Robinson Fayek said the U of A has already achieved “global excellence” in artificial intelligence, health and well-being, and energy and environment research. The other three areas are those in which the U of A is a current leader, but would like to grow.
U of A to focus on retaining talented researchers, students, and staff
SPRI centers on achieving four main goals. Firstly, the U of A wants to focus on retaining and nurturing talented researchers, students, and staff. Secondly, supporting those researchers with necessary tools and infrastructure. Thirdly, strengthening the U of A’s research culture and broadening the institution’s impact. And lastly, enhancing the U of A’s global research and innovation leadership.
For Robinson Fayek, the goal to nurture talented researchers is fundamental to achieving the plan.
“Without focusing on that, we’re not going to be able to achieve any of our other goals. Through those goals, we hope to attract, retain, [and] train researchers.”
Regarding research culture and institutional impact, Robinson Fayek said that strengthening research culture means creating an environment where all researchers feel their work is important.
“It’s important for us to create that environment where researchers flourish. But more importantly, [one where] their impact is recognized in a way that’s meaningful to them.”
To address enhancing the U of A’s global research and innovation leadership, the U of A is planning to be “much more multi-disciplinary in how we tackle grand challenges.” Through her office, Robinson Fayek said they will have a greater ability to do so than they have in the past, such as by putting together interdisciplinary teams.
Additionally, this goal focuses on increasing external engagement. This includes collaborating with Indigenous communities, working with industry partners, and engaging with the government and the international community.
“It’s not just about the revenue. It’s what that revenue will do,” Robinson Fayek says
Ultimately, Robinson Fayek said she hopes SPRI will bring more research revenue to the university. Through an increase in revenue, the U of A will be able to provide researchers with valuable resources. With these increased resources, students will be encouraged to pursue research regardless of their path after graduation, she said.
“It’s not just about the revenue. It’s what that revenue will do, which is to allow researchers to flourish [and] to grow their programs.”
Robinson Fayek emphasized the importance of academic freedom. Although the plan focuses on six key research areas, she said this will not prevent researchers in other fields from pursuing their research. The U of A will continue to support “organic growth” in other research areas, she said.
“In fact, in the plan, we have commitments to review our performance at one year, three years, and then five years. So, these areas that we’ve established do not in any way preclude any researcher from focusing on what interests them.”
Although Robinson Fayek said the goals they’ve set are ambitious, she thinks they are feasible. This is partially due to SPRI itself, the U of A community, and the senior leadership team.
“I do feel like our senior leadership team is very strategic. I feel very fortunate to work with President Bill Flanagan, [Provost and vice-president (academic)] Verna Yiu, and all of my vice-president colleagues,” she said.
“The time is right with this more strategic lens on research and innovation for us to achieve our big ambitions.”