Science funding

Mon, Jul 16, 2012, 01:00

Sir, – After the head of the European Research Council called into question why Ireland doesn’t have the same levels of success in research as comparable European nations, I wonder if anyone might be able to shed some light on why in 2012, the Science Foundation Ireland has €50 million set aside for scientific equipment under the Research Infrastructure Call but set aside zero euro for young researchers (by abandoning the Starting Investigator Research Grant programme).

I have spoken to several senior researchers around the country who told me of being faced with an “blank-cheque” situation when they were bidding to buy equipment that they admitted would be unlikely to ever see the light of day in their labs due to under-staffing. Furthermore, because of the way the call is structured, where a higher percentage of the cost is paid by SFI on more expensive items, they found themselves asking vendors if more expensive models are available, so as to get over the threshold amount.

“Surely”, I said to a colleague, “the money would be better spent on funding research projects, generating PhDs and helping young researchers move up the career ladder”. He had put the same question to SFI and been told that they “don’t have the budget for long- term funding and this money must be spent as part of this year’s budget”.

So as a result of these budgetary constraints, dozens of young researchers and dozens of potential PhD students who would be re-investing this money into the economy and the tax coffers will spend next year looking for non-existent jobs while on social welfare, or emigrating.

What makes the situation for researchers in Ireland even more depressing is the fact that the whole fiasco is set against a backdrop of inane hollow rhetoric about the “knowledge economy” and “investing in our future”.

I suggest the Government stops encouraging young people into science if this is how they’re going to be treated when they get here.

Nonetheless I look forward to watching Countdown on weekday afternoons come January, while a piece of equipment worth several hundred thousand euro endeavours to win the Nobel Prize. I just hope there’s someone there to plug it in. – Yours, etc,


Tyndall National Institute,

Lee Malting,