Wednesday 21 February 2018

Education investment key to securing our future

John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Multinational companies always like to cite Ireland's educated workforce as one of the reasons why they set up shop here.

Just this week, US firm Quantcast said it would create 100 jobs in Dublin over the next two years. The firm, which provides audience measurement and real-time advertising services, said it had access to an "exceptional talent pool" in Ireland.

But companies such as Paypal, which is part of eBay, and Google have increasingly found that they need to look overseas to get the kind of skilled staff they need.

But Ireland's performance among international peers in crucial subjects such as maths and science has been improving.

An international report issued just a couple of months ago by Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study showed Irish primary school students were ranked 17th out of 50 nations for their skills in mathematics and science, but they still scored significantly lower than peers in countries such as Singapore, Korea, Russia, England, the US, Japan and Northern Ireland.

Last week, the Central Statistics Office reckoned that about €2bn was spent in Ireland last year on research and development – the lion's share of it by multinational firms.

The €1.9bn spent on R&D during 2011 in Ireland was the equivalent of 1.17pc of the country's gross domestic product and below the 1.26pc average spent across the European Union. So what does all this mean for our prospects as a 'knowledge economy' – the phrase that politicians love to bandy about when talking about how the country will lift itself from economic gloom?

A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has tried to tease out global educational trends.

Impact

It has examined how a diverse range of issues – from global warming to deforestation, from the growth of megacities to road safety – could and do impact the delivery of education around the world.

It draws on research from institutions such as the World Bank, which has devised the so-called 'Knowledge Economy Index'. It ranks countries based on four key elements: a country's economic incentive and institutional regime; innovation and technological adoption; education and training; and information and communications technologies infrastructure.

"An efficient innovation system made up of firms, research centres, universities, think tanks, consultants, and other organisations can tap into the growing stock of global knowledge, adapt it to local needs, and create new technological solutions," notes the World Bank.

"An educated and appropriately trained population is capable of creating, sharing and using knowledge."

Sweden is ranked as the country most primed to benefit as a knowledge economy. Finland is second and Denmark is third. And despite any misgivings there might be about Ireland's education system, or the difficult economic circumstances the country has found itself in, it fares extremely well.

It's ranked 11 out of 145 countries. It beats the United States at number 12, Taiwan at 13 and the UK at 14.

The OECD points out in its study that about 32pc of Irish students surveyed in 2009 said they expected to obtain a degree qualification when their parents did not.

Back in 2003, the figure had been 28pc. The number of students not expecting to secure a degree even though their parents did had dropped to 9pc in 2009 from about 13pc in 2003.

According to the OECD, 11pc of 15-year-old students in Ireland expect to have a career in engineering or computing by the time they're 30. While that's in line with the OECD average, it appears low for a country pitching itself as a knowledge economy leader.

But then, the percentage in Sweden is 10pc, and with that country ranked first by the World Bank's Knowledge Economy Index, it can be difficult to know what to make of the statistics.

On Monday, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Minister Richard Bruton will join representatives from industry and education at Trinity College Dublin for what is being heralded as a "major investment in Irish science".

Hopefully it will be the type of investment that will have real and tangible long-term benefits.

Irish Independent

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