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Sahir Khan (left), Kevin Page, and Helaina Gaspard. Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.

Think tank offers practical learning in public finance, set to open this year

The University of Ottawa is set to be the first university in Canada to open an Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy (IFSD) after it was announced on Feb. 25 that it would receive funding from the Ontario government.

The institute’s emphasis will be on public finance and policy, and will be led by Kevin Page, the Jean-Luc Pepin Research Chair (JLP) and previously Canada’s first Parliamentary Budget Officer. Alongside him will be colleagues from the JLP, Helaina Gaspard, a senior research associate, and Sahir Khan, senior visiting fellow from the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

Khan says the most important goal of the IFSD is providing real-world experience to students, using co-op placements and internships. He says he believes one of the reasons the U of O won in the bid for funding was this strategic plan that focuses on practical experience, especially at the undergraduate level.

“Working with the president’s office, this was student-centric from the beginning. That made it a little bit different because we weren’t asking to set up a traditional research institute. We were saying it’s a platform experiential learning, on-the-job training,” said Khan.

The IFSD will be working with the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the National Governors Association, to name a few.

“There are a lot of interesting connections, not only for our students but for data and for research, and for actual public policy change and public policy development, which is really exciting for us,” said Gaspard.

Page and his students worked alongside the Open Society Foundation in Myanmar last year, and he hopes to continue similar international work with the IFSD.

The goal is to draw students from faculties all over the university, not just the social sciences, and work across all levels of academia in teaching, researching, advising and engaging students in the professional environment.

One of the greatest benefits the team is bringing from the JLP is the highly developed network with large organizations, domestically and abroad.

Two students from the university are currently interning at the World Bank, working directly with its 16 affiliated client countries, says Gaspard. In addition to that opportunity, the World Bank’s mobile app, which is co-branded with the university, is entirely run by U of O students.

“There are opportunities to work with these international organizations—that is definitely a building capacity, fiscal capacity in other countries, and I think it would be amazing to have students involved in something like that,” said Page.

Gaspard, Khan and Page anticipate the new institution opening as soon as this summer and ready for the September 2016 student intake. A location on campus has yet to be determined.

Khan says the JLP has provided real experience students could point to with pride and the IFSD intends to exceed that.

“That’s what we figured we wanted to scale up,” he said. “The Chair was a tremendous opportunity to do it—this institute basically gets to put that on a whole new level.”