Science foundation and research council to merge in major shake-up

New innovation strategy commits to providing more than €1 billion in funding to sector

Science Foundation Ireland is to be amalgamated with the Irish Research Council to create a new funding agency under a Government strategy aimed at boosting research and innovation.

Impact 2030, to be published on Wednesday, is billed as a blueprint to build a “world-class environment” for innovation and will commit to providing more than €1 billion to fund research this year.

It includes a focus on increasing the number of female entrepreneurs and researchers, as well as increasing the number of research students from underrepresented groups. In addition, the blueprint plans to change the way scientific and research advice is communicated to Government.

A Research and Innovation Advisory Forum is aimed at providing a platform for strategic engagement with the research and innovation community as well as international experts. It will be chaired by Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris.

Legislation to create a competitive research and innovation funding agency – following the planned amalgamation of Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council – is also being planned.

Dilution

The move has prompted concern among some academics who fear that abolishing the Irish Research Council could dilute research in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

Government sources, however, said the aim was to minimise competition for the same pot of funding and to advance multi-disciplinary research.

Consultation will begin with staff over the amalgamation, and it is intended that the new agency would be in operation from next year.

The strategy also provides for:

*Linkages between the public research system and policymakers to be “enhanced”, led by the Department of Further and Higher Education’s new “evidence for policy unit”, and supported by new science advice structures.

*Technological universities’ research and innovation offices to be strengthened in order to increase regional impact; a new fund will be launched for research in TUs;

Mr Harris said challenges facing society cannot be solved by one sector or country.

“The need to bring experts from across many disciplines together to solve these issues is increasingly critical,” he said. “As is the need to ensure that knowledge is transferred not only to enterprise but also to the public sector and to the citizen. Working together has never been so important. But it is also very challenging.

“The governance and oversight structures of Impact 2030 reinforce the standard of excellence of Irish research and optimise the impact of the research and innovation system.”

More attractive

The Minister also said several measures would help to make research more accessible and attractive.

“We will remove barriers for female researchers and will extend supports for students from underrepresented groups to become researchers,” he said.

“As the attraction and retention of world-class talent becomes increasingly competitive on a global level, Ireland needs to be a location of choice for the best and the brightest in order to realise our ambitions.”

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