Funding proposals invited for 2013 by science agency

Tue, Sep 4, 2012, 01:00

RESEARCHERS, SCIENTISTS and other interested parties have been invited to make submissions on next year’s annual funding plan for enterprise agency Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

The organisation yesterday published its plan for 2013, alongside its Agenda 2020 document, an overview of where it envisages Ireland’s standing in scientific research and its impact on the economy and jobs will be by then.

SFI – a sister agency to the IDA and Enterprise Ireland – provides awards to support academic scientists and engineers working in fields such as biotechnology, ICT and sustainable energy.

Its director general, Prof Mark Ferguson, said he expected the agency’s annual budget for 2013 to be in the region of €150 million a year, of which about two-thirds was already committed to funding existing projects.

He was hoping for more. There were, however, “strong signals” that it may be less.

Controversy arose recently after some applications for research funding were turned down by SFI.

A row erupted when scientists, particularly mathematicians but others too, discovered their proposals had been “administratively withdrawn” without review by international experts who might have argued in favour of funding.

Some scientists believe recent policy changes will mean support for basic science draining away in favour of applied research, due to potential for an investment return.

Prof Ferguson said his organisation wanted to contribute to the State’s recovery. This did not necessarily mean short-term research, but may mean industrial collaborations which were often more medium to long term.

“It’s about supplying properly trained people. It’s about research projects that align with the industrial base . . . within Ireland,” he said. “We only want to fund . . . research in those areas where we think there is a high probability of having an impact. It’s not guaranteed.”

Prof Ferguson defended his salary of more than €189,000, which breaches the Government’s public service salary cap. He said it was lower than that of his predecessor, who had earned €250,000.

Prof Ferguson said that when he had been negotiating in relation to the position he took over last January he had said “parity of esteem” with the heads of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland had “seemed fair to me in the current economic climate”.

Written submissions on the documents will be accepted until close of business on Friday September 28th and may be emailed to consultation@sfi.ie

SFI will also hold an online “webinar” briefing today from 1pm to 2pm. Further details at sfi.ie