Submissions sought on science plan

Mon, Sep 3, 2012, 01:00

Researchers, scientists and other interested parties have been invited to make submissions on next year’s annual funding plan for the enterprise body Science Foundation Ireland.

The organisation today 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 by that year.

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.

Director general of SFI, Prof Mark Ferguson, said he expected SFI’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 in recent months after some applications for research funding were turned down by SFI.

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out when scientists, particularly mathematicians but others too, discovered their proposals had been “administratively withdrawn” without having been reviewed by international experts who might have argued in favour of funding them.

Some scientists believe there are major changes in place that will see support for basic science draining away in favour of applied research, due to their potential for a return on investment.

Prof Ferguson said his organisation wanted to contribute to the country’s economic 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 and it’s about creating spin-out opportunities for potential new companies within Ireland.”

“We only want to fund excellent research. But 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,” he said.

“It’s not about picking the winners, but it is about picking the races.”

Prof Ferguson defended his own salary of over €189,000, which breaches the Government’s public service salary cap.

He said it was lower than that of the previous director general of SFI, who had earned €250,000.

Prof Ferguson said that when he had been negotiating 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”.

In January this year, Minister of State for Research and Innovation Sean Sherlock announced the Government would enact a Bill to extend SFI’s remit to include the funding of “applied” research. This was in order to support the development of research findings into commercial opportunities.

The Bill, when enacted, will provide for SFI to focus its funding on areas that have the potential to deliver the greatest return to the economy.

Earlier this year, the report of the National Research Prioritisation Steering Group was adopted as Government policy. This means the majority of public funds for research must now be directed towards the 14 areas outlined in that report. SFI said it would be focusing the remit of the appropriate programmes on these priority areas.

Written submissions on the document will be accepted from tomorrow (Tuesday September 4th) until close of business on Friday September 28th and may be emailed to

SFI will also hold a ‘webinar’ briefing tomorrow from 1pm to 2pm. Further details are available at