Funding for science

 

Sir, – Government funding provided through Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) aims to foster the long term development and competitiveness of enterprise and industry. In this context SFI makes strategic investments in research in fields of science and engineering most likely to generate new knowledge and leading-edge technologies that underpin the development of competitive enterprises. Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton recently announced €39 million worth of awards under SFI’s Principal Investigator Programme.

While I welcome Dr Peter Gallagher and Dr Emma Teeling’s support for this allocation (July 3rd), I can’t agree with the view that these awards were narrowly focused on applied science. The objective of SFI’s Investigators Programme is to continue the development of world class research capability and human capital in areas of science, engineering and mathematics that demonstrably support and underpin both enterprise competitiveness and societal development in Ireland.

The claim that the Research Prioritisation Exercise was steered predominantly by industrialists is not accurate. In fact, it was composed of a diverse range of members from the worlds of industry and commerce, the research community and the higher education institutions, State bodies and Government departments, along with the chief scientific adviser to the Government. In this context the group had a very good balance and was well equipped to take all relevant factors into consideration.

In relation to the possibility of losing skilled people overseas, any vibrant research ecosystem will see an ebb and flow of capable people in the scientific fields – in some ways this is a good thing, as experience gained abroad has the potential to benefit Ireland in the future. The latest SFI data shows that SFI supports approximately 3,000 researchers, including some 2,000 postgraduate students and post-doctorals – a figure that has remained relatively stable for some time.

The Report of the Research Prioritisation Steering Group provides a clear roadmap for future investment in research and innovation that gets the balance right. Having built a base of excellent research, and recognising that the full spectrum of research must be supported in order to have a sustainable system that continues to deliver impact, we need the research community to demonstrate the contribution that they can make in terms of important challenges.

Legislation is in preparation to enable SFI to fund applied research in addition to its existing remit to fund oriented basic research. We will continue to fund oriented basic research along with applied research in institutions as part of an integrated system of supports for research and innovation to underpin future enterprise and industrial development. – Yours, etc,

SEÁN SHERLOCK, TD,

Minister of State

for Research and Innovation,

Kildare Street, Dublin 2.