Ibec says Government should increase science research funding

Business representative says State needs independent advisory board for science

“We need a balanced research activity,” Ibec innovation and education executive Claire McGee said. “You have to ensure you have this continuum from basic research through to the commercialisation of discoveries. You need a balance, it is not one or the other.”

“We need a balanced research activity,” Ibec innovation and education executive Claire McGee said. “You have to ensure you have this continuum from basic research through to the commercialisation of discoveries. You need a balance, it is not one or the other.”

 

The Government should establish a fully independent advisory body for science and should also increase State funding for research, Ibec has said.

These and other recommendations were included in a submission from the business representative body to an InterDepartmental Cabinet committee currently devising a new national science policy.

The committee includes representatives from 10 Government departments plus the Higher Education Authority and the chief scientific advisor, Mark Ferguson.

The new policy “should be about long termism, not short termism”, said Claire McGee, senior innovation and education executive within Ibec. The policy should be visionary and must allow for constant horizon scanning so that newly emerging opportunities could be pursued.

The Government’s current approach to research funding has proved highly controversial with Ireland’s scientists. It favours funding for research that has the quick potential for job creation rather than research for the pursuit of new knowledge.

It prompted more than 1,100 of Ireland’s scientists to sign a letter to the editor of this newspaper in March describing the risks of failing to achieve a balance in research activity. Subsequent letters revealed a loss of confidence amongst scientists in the approach being taken by Government.

The Ibec submission highlights this issue. “We need a balanced research activity,” Ms McGee said. “You have to ensure you have this continuum from basic research through to the commercialisation of discoveries. You need a balance, it is not one or the other.”

While it was prudent to emphasis employment during the economic downturn Ireland was now in “recovery mode” and should increase State spending to at least two per cent of Gross Domestic Product, the Ibec submission said. At the moment it is less than one per cent of GDP and Government expenditure in research across all departments has declined from a 2008 peak of €938 million to an estimated €724 million in 2014.

Ireland must transform from an “innovation follower” as ranked by the EU’s 2014 Innovation Union Scoreboard to an “innovation leader”, Ibec said.

The strategy must recognise that a strong research base was essential in order to feed discoveries into closer to market research, Ibec said. This would produce a “strong pipeline” of activity.

“It is vital for a small, open economy that Ireland remains an attractive place to conduct R&D as well as facilitating the emergence of technology-based indigenous firms,” the submission said.

It called for the creation of an independent advisory body to oversee the new strategy. Prof Ferguson now plays that role but he is not independent given he is also the director general of Science Foundation Ireland, one of the main State research funding bodies.

The Strategy for Science Technology and Innovation devised by the previous government expired in 2013 so a new policy is due. The Government established the subcommittee in late December and allowed only four weeks for stakeholders to make a submission.

The Government expects to have its new policy released by this June, but Ibec views this process as only “a first step” in a longer process.

“This strategy can only be delivered if the business and research community support and own it,” Ibec said.