INRS: story of a singularity | The duty

This text is part of the special notebook 55 years of INRS

“INRS was the Quiet Revolution in research,” recalls Charles E. Beaulieu, first director general of INRS from 1969 to 1976, to whom we owe the creation of this institute. “It was unheard of at the time, but even today, there are very few in the world that look like it,” says the current general director, Luc-Alain Giraldeau. “We have acquired a formidable and unique instrument. It’s a spectacular achievement that few people know about. »

In 1969, the development of research in Quebec had fallen behind. An OECD report, entitled Review of national science policies, concluded that it was excessively compartmentalized. “Universities, governments and industry had little contact,” summarizes Charles E. Beaulieu, who then presided over the creation of the Center d’études universitaire de Rimouski (which later became the University of Quebec at Rimouski). . “The establishments were organized into disciplines. And the professors there did research to advance their discipline, but none had the vocation to align their research with the specific needs of Quebec. »

INRS innovates from day one. Charles E. Beaulieu structures all research and training around selected niches, organized in multidisciplinary research centers. And INRS will only train master’s and doctoral students. Luc-Alain Giraldeau insists on the fundamental originality of this initial idea. “Nowadays, all universities say that their mission is to promote the transfer of knowledge to the community. But it came after the fact. If you look at their letters patent, it doesn’t appear anywhere. In 1970, there was no establishment to which the government could say: “Do something to help Hydro-Québec.” It was our mission to meet the needs of Quebec. »

First successes

In a few years, INRS set up eight research centers and launched training – the first doctorate was awarded in 1973. The first three centers called the Quebec Center for Water Sciences, the INRS Energy Center, the of urban and regional research are renamed INRS-Water, INRS-Energy, INRS-Urbanization. They are quickly followed by INRS-Health, INRS-Télécommunications, INRS-Oil, INRS-Education and INRS-Oceanology.

INRS is quickly getting closer to industrial users. In 1969, INRS-Énergie moved to the Hydro-Québec Research Institute (IREQ). In 1976, its Communications Engineering Research Center was established at Bell-Northern Research, first in Ottawa, then in Montreal. “A university within an industrial research company was unheard of in Canada. This is how Quebec developed an international reputation in voice recognition. »

In 1973, Charles E. Beaulieu took advantage of a request for union certification to impose another first: employment exclusivity. Its researchers will not be able to carry out external consultations. INRS will negotiate the agreements and receive the fees, which it will share according to the rules provided for in the collective agreement.

Research has never suffered from this control, quite the contrary. In university research rankings, such as that of Research Infosource, INRS quickly stood out and still holds up. “We were first last year in Canada, before Toronto, before McGill,” says Luc-Alain Giraldeau. Our professors will get $450,000 per year in research budget. When I was a teacher, I thought I was very good when I went to raise $55,000. »

And if we had to do it again…

Looking back, Charles E. Beaulieu expresses only one regret: “The universities never accepted us, and it was a painful battle. »

This dates back to the announcement of the creation of INRS in December 1969. According to comments reported by Gilles Lesage, of Dutythe then Minister of Education of Quebec, Jean-Guy Cardinal, stated: “INRS will play a coordinating role and will request the participation of the three constituent universities [de l’Université du Québec], other Quebec universities as well as other parapublic and private government organizations. »

“It was an awkwardness that the universities interpreted as a desire to impose coordination of all research in Quebec,” explains Charles E. Beaulieu, who had to make great efforts to clarify the role of the INRS and the defend before the Council of Universities and the Ministry of Education in order to maintain its status and subsidies.

At the beginning of the 1970s, the first major study commissioned by the government even almost cost it its budgets, recalls Luc-Alain Giraldeau. INRS-Urbanization then concluded that not only would the development of the Sainte-Scholastique airport (future Mirabel airport) be harmful to Quebec, but also that it would especially benefit Ontario.

“Quebec and Ottawa took it very badly. Let’s say we risked closure,” he said.

In office since 2017, Luc-Alain Giraldeau is of the opinion that the founders’ objective of almost 50% self-financing of INRS proved to be a burden in the long run. “University funding has come to be based on the number of undergraduate students. This forces us to collect every year. What we lack is an adequate and predictable funding formula. »

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