An $11.8-million investment from the provincial government will help the University of Calgary support programs designed to foster new technology-related jobs in Alberta, the UCP announced Friday.
The province says the funding will lead to “research that will help establish Alberta as a national and international hub for quantum computing and related spinoff industries.”
Approximately $3 million was awarded to researchers at the university, through the province’s Major Innovation Fund, to aid U of C’s Quantum Alberta network.
The program specializes in quantum technologies, which are an emerging field of physics and engineering that rely on the principles of quantum physics. Quantum technologies can be used to develop highly accurate sensor technology, secure communications and computing programs.
The field affects “every element of our economy from how you order your coffee on your phone to the ability to order your groceries online, the ability to see how we can be more efficient in agriculture, to help become more efficient in how we produce energy,” said Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer.
The province said growth in the quantum technologies sector would “help attract talent to the province, create long-term jobs, and help commercialize new technologies” in areas like molecular chemistry, large-scale biological research, geological exploration, space technology and quantum satellite communications.
“Diversifying our economy has never been more important,” Schweitzer said.
“That’s why we are investing in the U of C’s quantum technology project. Establishing Alberta as a leader in quantum technologies will give a competitive boost to our economy and create new jobs today and for the future.”
Another $3.9 million will be dedicated for research on antimicrobial resistance, which is when bacteria or viruses stop responding as effectively to treatment. The research will support infection prevention and control strategies.
The other $4.9 million in funding, through the Research Capacity Program, will support U of C’s SMILE-UVI satellite project.
The province said this funding would contribute to the international space mission. It would also fund research to study how space radiation impacts the upper atmosphere, industrial infrastructure, and technology in applications like enhanced GPS and satellite imaging in oil and gas mining.
“That research is just critical for us in our diversification efforts,” said Schweitzer.
“So many of us can rattle off names of oil and gas companies, but many of us, we’re just starting to scratch the surface on our potential here when it comes to these emerging companies.”
U of C president and vice-chancellor Ed McCauley said the provincial funding would help ensure “we can translate new research findings into lasting and measurable benefits to society as quickly as possible.”
“The impacts of these groundbreaking research projects on the magnetosphere, antimicrobial resistance and quantum technologies will be significant for new job creation and commercialization activities in key sectors,” McCauley said.
The university has faced cuts by the UCP government in recent provincial budgets. More budget uncertainty also looms as the province seeks to implement “outcomes-based funding” as soon as the 2021–22 academic year.
The province’s 2020 budget included a 6.3-per-cent cut to Alberta’s post-secondaries, which translated to a $26.7-million cut to U of C’s Campus Alberta Grant that supports operating expenses such as faculty salaries.
The U of C’s Campus Alberta Grant for the 2020–21 year is $420 million, the lowest value since 2010–11.
Cuts in October 2019’s inaugural UCP budget left the U of C facing a $32.9-million deficit. The university responded by eliminating 250 positions.
McCauley has said he anticipates further cuts in the next two years.
“Doug Schweitzer does not get to pat himself on the back and call it a day,” NDP economic development and trade critic Deron Bilous said in a statement.
“The UCP’s short-sighted decisions are leaving our province without an economic future. Until this government can demonstrate that the advancement of research and innovation is a priority by reversing their devastating cuts, Alberta will not draw the international investment and talent we need to skill up our workforce and diversify our economy.”