What now for scientific funding in Ireland?
“The NRPE will form a central plank of the medium- to long-term strategy, but I am keen to canvass views from across the system. We want to find a way to ensure that people don’t feel alienated by the process.”
So what do the researchers think? Some who were present at the summit reflected on the prioritisation exercise and its potential impact.
“To my mind there has been a lot of rumour and then nervousness about the prioritisation exercise, the rumour stemming from the fact that there’s an information vacuum, and into that vacuum flow all kinds of mistruths and misinterpretations,” says one, describing how the research community started to see “demons in the shadows” as a result.
“Athlone was the first time that I’ve seen a comprehensive and detailed answer given to this nervousness and the session was very informative. But, as in countless other cases, if the message is delivered in a ham-fisted way from the get-go then it takes a lot to undo that.”
Another attendee describes research prioritisation as a “categorisation process” and reckons that everything is still there if researchers are creative: “The debate for me on fundamental versus applied is the wrong debate. The focus should be on excellence. If it is excellent it will both have impact and relevance.”
Another accepts that the majority of investment should go to prioritised areas, but worries that the “minority share” for excellent basic research in new and unanticipated research areas won’t be large enough to be meaningful.
Meanwhile, the research community has to think global and do the best to stay in the race or even better, win the race, according to another researcher present.
“Yes, we definitely need excellent fundamental science. But it is important that the academic community realises that they have to be relevant to the societal needs.”
However the researcher also notes that some unease still remains: “It seems that the speakers were not able to convince the audience partly because of inherent mistrust and because the process prioritisation was seen as biased and not objective.”
Another welcomed the explanations offered. “Understandably many people get very exercised if their particular area is not a headline area or if they feel that too much weight is being given to applied versus basic, but everything that I have seen suggests that the reality will be one of balance and good judgement.”
Claire O’Connell gave a presentation at the SFI summit