University of Alberta welcomes federal investment in AI, biomanufacturing and student supports

New investments in research, biomanufacturing, skills training and student support will help the U of A advance some of its top priorities, says president.


University of Alberta president Bill Flanagan says new federal investments in Budget 2021 align with several of the U of A's priorities in research and innovation, including artificial intelligence, virology, life sciences and biomanufacturing. (Photo: John Ulan)

The University of Alberta joined with colleagues at Universities Canada and the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities in applauding a range of new federal investments in research, biomanufacturing and skills training, as well as student support.

“These investments demonstrate that the federal government sees a major role for post-secondary education and research in Canada’s economic and social recovery, and the U of A is poised to play a leadership role,” said U of A president Bill Flanagan, adding that Budget 2021 aligns with several of the university’s strategic research and innovation priorities, including artificial intelligence, virology, life sciences and biomanufacturing.

Pan-Canadian AI

Flanagan noted the U of A has long been a global leader in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The university ranks third in the world in artificial intelligence and machine learning research over the last 25 years, and is the original home of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), which spun out in 2017 as one of Canada's three national AI hubs in the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy. Amii supports world-leading research in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and translates scientific advancement into industry adoption.

Budget 2021 adds a further investment of up to $443.8 million over 10 years in the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, starting in 2021-22. Forty million over five years will provide additional computing capacity to all three national AI institutes.

“This continued investment from the Government of Canada will further Amii's work in driving scientific, economic and societal impacts through the research and application of AI,” said Flanagan.

Biomanufacturing and vaccine development

Flanagan pointed out that Budget 2021 also makes several commitments to support Canada’s biomanufacturing and life sciences sector, including two of particular importance to the U of A: the $500-million investment towards bio-science capital and infrastructure needs of post-secondary institutions and research, and the significant commitment of $1 billion over seven years to support emerging domestic life sciences and bio-manufacturing firms through the Strategic Innovation Fund. 

“We have a tremendous opportunity to build biomanufacturing capacity for Canada right here in Edmonton, contributing to the economic diversity and recovery of Alberta,” said Flanagan.

“The University of Alberta is a world leader in virology. By leveraging the internationally recognized research by Nobel Laureate Michael Houghton, Lorne Tyrrell and many others with the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute as well as the work of Dr. John Lewis at Entos Pharmaceuticals, we are developing a commercialization pipeline that can provide a range of vaccines and therapies.”

Skills training and student supports

Flanagan said he was pleased to see that another major focus of the budget is support for Canada’s post-secondary students. The federal budget includes an investment of $239.8 million in the Student Work Placement Program to support work-integrated learning opportunities for students. It also includes $708 million over five years to MITACS to offer training opportunities to graduate students and build bridges between university research and the private sector.

“Expanding work-integrated learning options for students is one of the chief goals for the U of A for Tomorrow,” Flanagan said. “By 2025, we aim to be a national leader in the number of our students participating in experiential learning activities, both on and off of our campuses. The Government of Canada’s support will help us meet this goal.”

Other important funding for students includes investments in the Canada Summer Jobs program, significant increases to the Canada Student Financial Assistance Program, MITACS, and funding support for Indigenous, Inuit and Métis learners.

As Canadians continue to face unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19, universities are playing a key role in providing the research, health care and public health advice they need right now, Flanagan emphasized.

“At the U of A, we continue to advance research and learning in a range of areas that will be critical to recovery and renewal. These are areas where the U of A excels and can take a future leadership role.

“We thank the Government of Canada for the investments in research and student support, and we remain a ready partner in supporting post-pandemic recovery and building Canada’s future prosperity.”