Invest in education and RD - Barrett


IRELAND IS distinctly average, and average is no longer good enough, according to former Intel chairman Craig Barrett.

The man credited with bringing Intel to Ireland over 20 years ago was addressing the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin last night.

A crowd of 600, the highest in the history of the academy according to its president Prof Nicholas Canny, heard Dr Barrett deconstruct the notion that Ireland could recreate its Celtic Tiger economy simply by cutting its costs.

Competitiveness in the modern world, he stated, was a function of three concepts – smart people, smart ideas and the right environment. The rapid emergence of players such as China, India, Latin America and eastern Europe on the world economic stage meant countries with high standards of living, like Ireland, must concentrate its efforts on high value-added jobs.

Dr Barrett made clear on several occasions that Ireland was not alone in its present quandary. Many western economies, notably the United States, face similar challenges.

In his vision, Ireland is unlikely to be able to thrive on the back of the previously successful blueprint of encouraging foreign direct investment from large corporations. “That era is over,” he said. “We need to do something new.”

Entrepreneurs and start-ups will drive economic growth, Dr Barrett believes, and the areas in which they will thrive will be technology-related sectors like nanotechnology, microelectronics, photonics, biotechnology and alternative energy.

Success requires refocusing the educational system so that it delivers better results in mathematics and the sciences, he told his audience. Central to this is providing teachers with a background in these subjects and, if necessary, “bias the system to get the result you want and that you know you need. Your future depends on having critical mass of this talent in your economy,” Dr Barrett said.

He also called for a doubling of investment in research and development, noting that Ireland invested less in this area than his former employer. Allied to this, Ireland’s universities needed to see themselves less as “ivory tower institutions of learning” and more as “wealth creation centres” working closely with industry.

Creating the right environment, he told his audience, involved encouraging start-up firms and risk-takers, not penalising them as Ireland’s current bankruptcy laws do.

“You are not average in per capita income, therefore you need to be excellent from the individual and business point of view,” he said.