Ridha Ben Mrad (right) is an engineering professor at U of T and Mitacs' Chief Research Officer. PHOTO BY GEOFFREY VENDEVILLE/U OF T NEWS

U of T has announced a $1.4 million partnership agreement with non-profit organization Mitacs to support global research opportunities for U of T students. The deal, spanning a three-year period, will primarily fund Mitacs’ Globalink Research Award program, which provides undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows with financial aid to conduct research at universities in 40 different countries.

With the expenses of studying abroad contributing to students’ reticence in opting into international experience, this partnership with Mitacs will allow up to 200 U of T students to apply for funding per year. At least 80 international students will also receive funding from Mitacs and U of T to conduct research in Toronto. With an equal division of financial dues among Mitacs and the partner university, the recipients of the awards — both inbound and outbound — will receive $6,000 each for 12-week or 24-week placements.  

Dr. Ridha Ben Mrad, a professor in the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering and Mitacs’ Chief Research Officer, said that Mitacs is a “bridge between the private sector and the university.”  

“This [new] deal with the U of T is more strategic in the sense that we are allocating a certain number of internships for University of Toronto’s students to go do internships outside of the country,” said Ben Mrad.

Internships abroad and exchange programs give students the opportunity to expand network connections, gain work experience in different cultures, and access new ideas and perspectives. The partner institutions that host these students get expertise in the field to help provide solutions to problems, said Ben Mrad.

“In the same token, U of T, being a global university, is able to attract researchers from outside. So this will pay for U of T students but the idea is that this will enable two-way mobility to U of T and from U of T,” he said.

Since starting its internship program in 2003, Mitacs has expanded its role in connecting academic research to the private sector in several educational disciplines. Of the 7,112 projects listed on its website, approximately 84 per cent are in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, while approximately 15 per cent are in the social sciences and humanities. 

Ben Mrad said that Mitacs is making “a substantial effort” to fund more non-STEM projects because “there is so much innovation to be done there.”

Much of the funding for Mitacs’ programs comes from Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada, a department of the Canadian government. ISED has provided around $56 million to Mitacs’ programs over a four-year period between 2012 and 2016, in which the Globalink program itself received close to $20 million. With additional financial contributions from the private sector, Mitacs has supported over 20,000 research internships since it was founded in 1999. 

As it continues to grow, Mitacs has set a goal of delivering over 10,000 internships annually by 2021–2022, with 2018–2019 projections at 8,190 showing promise toward that target.

To match the ambition of such goals, partnership agreements like this one with U of T are critical. According to Ben Mrad, the partnership will “enable U of T to develop strategic relationships, to choose where to send a good number of their researchers, [and] to establish strong relationships with one or multiple parties.”

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