Researchers' disquiet likely to remain until funding plan published


BACKGROUND:The science community should have nothing to fear from the research prioritisation process, according to Minister of State for Research Seán Sherlock.

No discipline will be excluded and all will have equal opportunity to apply in the hope of securing funding.

Sherlock has worked to win researcher confidence and support for the process. There has been considerable disquiet across the science community since the Government became more strident in seeking a definable return on the State investment in scientific research.

The fear was that only those research projects that could deliver products and services downstream would win financial support.

Economic growth

But Sherlock said that no one would be excluded from the process, or from access to funding. There would be opportunities even if the research was for knowledge, education or policy as opposed to economic growth.

However, strictures on funding remain unchanged . Only excellent research as judged by an independent international panel would receive funding. And it was up to the researcher to argue how society would benefit.

Concerns are similar to those of 2000 when funding first began to move through the then new funding bodies, Science Foundation Ireland and the Higher Education Authorities’s Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI).

Think strategically

The former only had a remit to support research in biotechnology and information and communications technology. Yet look at the varied mix of laboratories, institutes and research centres we have today, all generated by an apparently narrow funding channel.

And the PRTLI was all about persuading small groups and academics to think strategically about the conduct of research and the value of collaboration.

The prioritisation process will mean change. There will be a sharper emphasis on seeing a clear return on the research investment.

The Government believes scientific endeavour can help return the State to prosperity. But “we do need to face the economic situation we are in”, said Sherlock.

Researcher unease will likely remain until the prioritisation plans are published. Only then will it become clear whether the Ministers have struck the right balance.