Some 800 of our best scientists spell out how to achieve the right balance for Irish research

Would we have discovered the Double Helix without long-term sustaining of exploratory research?

A properly functioning scientific research strategy is an essential for any country seeking to become a world player in this complex and highly competitive sector. Research takes place across widely differing organisations and for widely differing reasons. Universities use research as a way to educate students but also to build reputation and even create a funding stream through patenting and licensing. A company may conduct research to improve competitiveness, to bring a new product or service to market or to feed services into larger research-driven companies.

An effective science strategy must be relevant to all of this, providing vision and far horizon goals for those participating in research no matter what the ultimate aim. For this reason one of the most important attributes of a good strategy is balance. There must be a balance struck between what is good for business and what is good for the higher education institutions. There has to be a balance between the provision of a top-quality education for students who want to pursue research for knowledge or near-to-market translational research. Opportunities must be available to them whether it is as a research academic or as a highly trained specialist in a technology company. Would we have discovered the Double Helix without a long-term sustaining of basic science research?

An interdepartmental cabinet committee was formed late last December involving 10 individual government departments along with the Higher Education Authority and Science Foundation Ireland to pull together a new strategy for science. To achieve this it must correct a failure of balance, as perceived by the science community.

More than 800 scientists based here and abroad signed a letter published in this newspaper on Wednesday to declare their view that the current approach to State funding for research is off balance. They also declared that this is eroding their ability to work as researchers but also as teachers. They have called on the Government to reintroduce balance to the ecosystem before more damage is done to Ireland’s research reputation. The Government ignores the research community at its peril. The science strategy offers a chance to balance the system and bring a step-change to Ireland’s research capacity.