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Supporting self-discovery

Memorial’s role in oceans innovation ecosystem a best practice, says OECD

By Dr. Mandy Rowsell

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says Memorial University’s contributions to Newfoundland and Labrador’s ocean innovation ecosystem demonstrate a best practice of how a university can support its regional innovation sector.

A report conducted by the international inter-governmental policy organization is part of a broader research initiative on the role that universities play in regional innovation.

Memorial and the ocean economy

The report, The Geography of Higher Education of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, assesses Memorial’s contribution to the province’s economic development by specifically focusing on the university’s contributions to the province’s ocean economy.

It considers Memorial’s public engagement and entrepreneurship supports and practices, as well as its collaboration strategies, programs and relationships.

Raffaele Trapasso, one of the report’s authors, says that universities have an important role to play when it comes to their impact on their home province’s economic development.

“Universities are pools of human and institutional capital, which can support a process of self-discovery in their own communities,” he said. “They can help identify resources that are untapped or underutilized and help create new spaces for investment, valuable jobs, and growth.”

Mr. Trapasso, who is a senior economist at the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, Regions and Cities, says it is Memorial’s focus on public engagement, and close connections to the people and organizations of Newfoundland and Labrador, that initially motivated OECD to reach out to Memorial’s Office of Public Engagement.

“The review we have done in Newfoundland and Labrador plays a key role in helping us understand in which ways a university can co-specialize part of its research and teaching activities to meet local innovation and skills needs while remaining relevant at the international level,” he said.

The report is OECD’s second publication on Memorial University.

Photo of OECD representatives visiting the Holyrood Marine Base
Representatives from the OECD research team and Memorial University visit The Launch, Holyrood Marine Base, as part of the study mission in June 2022.
Photo: Submitted

The organization published a case study on Memorial’s Public Engagement Framework in 2022; you can read more about that here.

In the initial study, OECD examined best practices in community-university relationships and used Newfoundland and Labrador as a global example.

More recently, OECD expressed interest in Memorial’s connection to the province’s ocean innovation ecosystem, particularly the ways that the university helps support capacity for ocean-focused research, teaching and public engagement.

‘An ocean university’

The report explores Memorial’s connection to the province’s ocean innovation ecosystem, particularly the ways that the university helps support capacity for ocean-focused research, teaching and public engagement.

“Memorial is an ocean university with deep ties to every aspect of the provincial ocean sector,” said Dr. Rob Greenwood, director of the Harris Centre and associate vice-president, public engagement and external relations, at Memorial. “There is a need for shared understanding — a shared narrative — and a sense of ‘being in it together,’ the university and the province. With more than 40 per cent of Memorial’s research focused on oceans, we believe we are having a positive impact on one of the most important economies in the province.”

The report included information from regional stakeholders, including municipal, provincial and federal governments, as well as researchers from industry and community organizations.

“Memorial’s teaching, learning and research activities often mirror the economic needs of N.L., responding to key sectors such as ocean-based industries and the growing technology sector.” — Raffaele Trapasso

Alongside researchers from OECD, the Innovation Policy Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto, and international experts and stakeholders from OECD’s Entrepreneurship Education Collaboration and Engagement Network contributed to the project.

Memorial’s Leslie Harris Centre for Regional Policy and Development (the Harris Centre) co-ordinated the process.

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Industry, Energy, and Technology funded the project in part.

‘Roots in special obligation’

Mr. Trapasso says that the overall findings were positive.

“Memorial’s teaching, learning and research activities often mirror the economic needs of Newfoundland and Labrador, responding to key sectors such as ocean-based industries and the growing technology sector,” he said. “Its roots are in its special obligation as the province’s only university, and this has been intentionally realized through strong academic units delivering relevant teaching and research, supported by policies and structures that support collaboration.”

Some key recommendations include multiplying efforts in entrepreneurship and innovation, fostering partnerships abroad and generally enhancing the university’s presence internationally as a leading institution in the fields of ocean and marine science and technology, and the social and cultural aspects of ocean and Arctic peoples.

The Harris Centre hosted the report’s authors and other local experts for a panel discussion on April 25. A recording can be viewed on the Harris Centre website and YouTube channel.

Read the full report on the Harris Centre’s website.


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