Investment in research and education is key to future


OPINION:Ireland will not be competitive without well-educated workers and research excellence, writes JIM O'HARA

IRELAND IS at a crossroads in its development. We are facing the gravest economic crisis since the formation of the State.

But little discussion has occurred on two key aspects of our future – what are the building blocks of our smart economy and how do we differentiate Ireland as an attractive location for investment? In other words how will we create and retain jobs?

There is a common component in the answer to these questions – continued investment in research and education. We are competing in a global market to create, attract and retain the highest quality jobs. Unless there is the foundation of a highly educated workforce and an internationally recognised commitment to and reputation for research and innovation, Ireland will not be considered competitive.

My role as head of Intel in Ireland has provided an excellent perspective on the successful evolution of Ireland in the past 20 years. Intel’s business in Ireland has grown by harnessing the expertise of our staff and Ireland’s growing reputation for research excellence. We have learned from experience that RD cannot thrive in a vacuum – we need a base of manufacturing industry interacting closely with the academic system to create future sustainable growth, based on innovation, practical application and collaboration.

We must have a world-class, digitally connected education system and a clear government strategy across all four levels of education and on into lifelong learning. We need the best teachers in the subjects vital to the country’s economic interests: science, technology, engineering and maths. These subjects will be the fundamental building blocks for this country in the digital economy of the 21st century.

Research is equally important. Ireland has significantly raised its investment in research over the last 10 years. The commitment is now 1.7 per cent of GDP – just below the European average. This investment has enabled Ireland to be internationally competitive in research for the first time and has resulted in the formation of an integrated network between academia, industry and government that makes Ireland an attractive location for RD.

Research excellence is now perceived internationally as a strength for Ireland. In 2008, the IDA reported the total RD investment by its client base had grown by 22 per cent to €420 million, and that almost one-third of its new RD investments were in direct collaboration with third-level research facilities.

Nanotechnology is a timely example of a success story, with the Nanoweek programme recently announced. Intel is the founding partner in the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Centre for Science, Engineering and Technology at Crann, the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices, where leading researchers have used nanoscience to develop new materials and potential devices for future Intel products.

Crann now works with a dozen companies in several sectors. Nanotechnology adds to innovation in virtually every field of manufacturing, enabling nearly $250 billion (€168 billion) in products in 2008 globally, and on track to exceed $3 trillion in 2015.

/Ireland has increased the number of academic researchers in this area to 600, and of €150 billion in exports in 2008, it is estimated 10 per cent were enabled by nanoscience and related nanotechnologies.

These successes have been significant in developing Intel’s relationship with and perception of Ireland, aiding in retaining our commitment and providing a platform for job creation.We must stay true to an investment strategy that is succeeding and commit to a focus to education and research excellence.

Jim O’Hara is the general manager of Intel Ireland and a board member of Science Foundation Ireland and the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (Crann), based at TCD and UCC