Research funding at risk, warn scientists


IRELAND RISKS being “cut off” from EU funding if it fails to support fundamental research, something that would represent a “major failure” for the Government, scientists have warned.

Reduced funding could cause senior academics to leave and force extremely valuable postgraduates to emigrate, creating a brain drain, researchers have claimed.

Government policy is changing, despite warnings from a range of international experts, a group of academics say in a letter published this morning in The Irish Times. The letter is signed by 17 leading researchers based at Trinity College, UCD, UCC, NUI Maynooth, Cork Institute of Technology, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and DCU.

EU commissioner for research, innovation and science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Research Council president Helga Nowotny and a number of Nobel laureates all emphasised the “crucial importance” of maintaining frontier research, the letter says.

Previous governments maintained a balance between fundamental research and close-to-market applied research, but now the balance has moved towards the latter, the academics believe.

“The concern is that basic research is being ignored” in favour of applied research, said Dr Eamonn Cashell, dean of graduate studies at Cork Institute of Technology and one of the signatories. “I am a supporter of applied research but there is a direct link between the two. If you break that link, I believe you damage applied research,” he said. “It can damage our reputation for research excellence. Our credibility could suffer but it could also encourage academics and graduates to leave. You are talking about a brain drain.”

If policy diverted funding from basic research “a lot of us will not have access to funds”, said another signatory, Dr Geraldine Butler, a UCD geneticist. “I am one of the people considering whether I will have to leave Ireland.”

The policy would make Ireland uncompetitive when applying for European Research Council funds, said lead signatory Dr Peter Gallagher, a solar physicist at Trinity College. “This is the biggest funding pot on the planet,” he said. The proposed EU research budget Horizon 2020 would be worth €80 billion. “The Government needs to hold their resolve; investment in basic research will produce fruit but it will take time.”

Letters: page 15