IOP Ireland responds to consultation on science strategy

15 April 2015

IOP Ireland recently responded to the government consultation on a successor strategy for science, technology and innovation over the next five years.

The response noted that previous investment in science had transformed the research landscape in Ireland and has allowed the country to position itself as a high-tech economy. Ireland has been capable of attracting significant foreign direct investment partly because of the availability of a highly trained workforce with skills which are in significant demand globally. The government’s sustained investment in science despite the economic difficulties of the last number of years was acknowledged as significant by the IOP and testament to the major role of science research in the country.

However, the Institute expressed a high level concern that the current focus on short-term commercialisable research in a limited number of priority areas has resulted in a funding climate where there is inadequate funding for the kinds of research which has longer term benefits for the economy.

As noted in the response, international collaboration and competitiveness for Irish researchers starts with flexible, broadly focused and adequately funded programmes for both basic and applied research at home. There is currently a very urgent need for the Irish Government to take a much broader and far more long-term perspective on the continued building of a credible and internationally competitive research ecosystem in Ireland. In this context the Institute called for a sustained programme of investment in basic research in areas that are currently outside of national priorities.

Physics has a critical role to play in the Irish economy, with physics-based industries providing over 86,000 jobs and gross value added to the economy of €7.4 billion in 20101. These figures are consistent across Europe with studies noting that for every €1 increase in physics-based output, the economy-wide increase in output is €2.28 within the EU27 countries2.  Additionally turnover per employee in the physics-based European sector averaged €240,000 per annum– almost twice the equivalent figure for the construction industry.2 The robustness of this sector is one of the main reasons why Ireland is now emerging from the economic crash of 2008. Hence it is essential to support the ecosystem underpinning this aspect of the economy.

The IOPI response drew attention to comparable high tech economies in countries of similar size to Ireland, such as Finland and Israel who not only invest considerably more in research than Ireland but do so in fundamental areas, not just in applied research.

The Institute called for the establishment of a fund of the order of €20 million annually (approximately 2.8% of the annual R&D budget) to  allow for grants in basic research ranging from €20,000 -  €200,000 in areas outside the priority areas.

1. The Importance of physics to the Irish economy. IOP Report 2012

http://www.iopireland.org/publications/iopi/page_59020.html

2.The importance of physics to the economies of Europe. European Physical Societies. 2013.

http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.eps.org/resource/resmgr/policy/EPS_economyReport2013.pdf

Consultation document available at: http://www.djei.ie/publications/science/2015/Consultation_Paper_for_Successor_to_SSTI_Feb2015.pdf

IOP Ireland response at: http://www.iopireland.org/policy/submissions/file_65353.pdf