Science foundation bullish on returns from research


THE TAXPAYER is getting a good return on the investment in scientific research, according to Science Foundation Ireland.

The foundation yesterday released its annual report for 2010 and also its annual census of scientists who have received financial support. The census attempts to measure the results of this investment, gauged in discoveries, patents and collaborations with private-sector companies.

Ireland ranked 20th in the world for research in 2010, the report says. Irish research now ranks above the EU-27 countries and also the OECD average.

The foundation released payments of €150 million during the year and researchers receiving its support published just under 5,000 peer-reviewed papers during the year, an increase of 22 per cent on 2009.

Conducting joint research with foreign-based scientists is also on the increase the report indicates. More than a third of publications from scientists in receipt of foundation grants involved a non-Irish based co-author.

Irish research is becoming more internationalised generally, the report says. Almost 40 per cent of the 463 award-holders are non-Irish, with those involved coming from 35 countries, the report states. Moreover, there were 1,700 academic collaborations with international partners from 58 countries during 2010.

Irish scientists are also looking abroad for new sources of research funding. Foundation-funded researchers secured €73 million from international sources, up by 36 per cent on the previous year. Multinationals and other private-sector firms are conducting many more collaborative studies with foundation-backed scientists, the report indicates.

The 867 collaborations logged during the year rose 44 per cent over the 2009 figure of 601, and more than doubled the 311 joint research projects seen in 2008. The number of these agreements with the multinational companies and foundation-backed scientists was up by almost a third.

Dr Graham Love, the foundation’s director of policy and communications was bullish about the figures in the two reports. “I think we are really beginning to see the fruits of some of the research coming through,” he said.

The Irish Federation of University Teachers welcomed the results but lamented the difficulty faced by many scientists supported by the funding.

“Practically all the researchers are on a fixed-term contract and they have no rights,” said the federation’s secretary Mike Jennings.

“They are effectively being treated as second-class citizens by the system.”