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Putting Ireland top of the class in cutting-edge innovation

The Irish Research Council plays a vital role in enhancing the research and innovation capacity of enterprise, both large and small, in Ireland

Peter Brown: “Combined with ongoing investment in industry-academia collaborations, Ireland has developed a very strong comparative performance in innovation, as evidenced by our high ranking in the European innovation scorecard.” Photograph: Jason Clarke

Peter Brown: “Combined with ongoing investment in industry-academia collaborations, Ireland has developed a very strong comparative performance in innovation, as evidenced by our high ranking in the European innovation scorecard.” Photograph: Jason Clarke

 

On the Irish Research Council’s homepage it says: “Our mission is to enable and sustain a vibrant research community in Ireland by supporting excellent researchers in all disciplines from arts to zoology.”

This fact alone is what makes it unique – it doesn’t fund in only one area or discipline but looks for the very best in research from every field, director Peter Brown says.

The council also manages a suite of inter-linked schemes, funding researchers across all career stages, from postgraduate to principal investigator level.

Brown says the research and development landscape in Ireland is unrecognisable today, in comparison with two decades ago.

“Irish researchers now collaborate with leading researchers around the world. Game-changing programmes such as the Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions and success in European research and innovation framework programmes (eg Horizon2020) have played a major part in transforming the research and development landscape in Ireland.

“Combined with ongoing investment in industry-academia collaborations, Ireland has developed a very strong comparative performance in innovation, as evidenced by our high ranking in the European innovation scorecard. Our ability to maintain this position for the long-term in the face of strong global competition is not guaranteed, however, and building for the future, particularly in the face of rapid technological change, will be crucial,” he says.

For this reason, the IRC plays a vital role in enhancing the research and innovation capacity of enterprise, both large and small, in Ireland. To date, the council has made awards for more than 900 individual research projects in collaboration with 425 separate companies and organisations. Through each award, the enterprise or employment partner benefits from cutting-edge research carried out by a postgraduate or postdoctoral researcher, supported by an academic mentor.

“Through the scheme, opportunities for businesses to innovate and develop new commercial possibilities are enhanced, based on the latest knowledge in a given field. Information technology, biotechnology, space technology and med-tech are among the sectors with companies of varying sizes that benefit from the two programmes,” Brown says.

“The council funds the majority of the cost of the award, and this provides strong incentives to businesses to engage with research and innovation. In addition, the programmes assist companies in identifying excellent talent for longer-term roles, and this is important in an increasingly competitive ‘war for talent’. The programmes support the development of industry-savvy and workplace-ready researchers, and indeed diversify career paths for researchers beyond academia,” he says.

Laureate awards

The IRC Laureate awards for frontier basic research were launched in 2017 and the first tranche of 36 awards, addressing the early and mid-career stage, were announced in 2018, representing an investment of €18 million. A further 12 awards were announced in April 2019, at the advanced career stage, bringing the total investment over the first full cycle of awards to €30 million. The first full cycle of Laureate Awards (starting, consolidator, advanced) will result in the creation of 73 postgraduate and related positions, and 52 post-doctoral research posts in frontier research.

“Funding open frontier research across all disciplines underpins and supports innovation and promotes diversity and strength in the research base. In addition, it supports networks of cutting-edge expertise within the research system that highly innovative enterprises depend on and, indeed, other stakeholders can collaborate with.The development of new ideas and new thinking, engaging leading researchers from both arts, humanities and social sciences and Stem, is required to generate innovative solutions and new ways of approaching complex problems,” Brown says.

“The Laureate awards will also enable a targeted approach to securing funding from the single largest funding stream of EU research and innovation currently – the European Research Council. ”