Monday 16 December 2019

State spending on scientific research needs to increase by over €100m per year, expert warns

Photo: Stock Image
Photo: Stock Image

Alan O’Keeffe

Ireland needs to increase State spending on scientific research by more than €100m a year to compete successfully with other countries, warned the Government’s science advisor.

The work of 4,000 scientific researchers in Ireland will be funded with the help of €172.5m this year from taxpayers but State-aid for research projects needs to grow to €300m a year within the next few years, said Professor Mark Ferguson, director general of the Science Foundation of Ireland.

Other countries are increasing their research funding and Ireland needs to keep up so that top researchers continue to be attracted to Ireland.

The salaries of top researchers head-hunted from abroad to lead research projects in Ireland are paid by Irish third-level colleges while funding of up to €5m for each five-year project comes from the Foundation. The limit on salaries for top research leaders was increased from €180,000 to €250,000 a year to ensure Ireland got the best people.

Top cutting-edge research projects can generate large numbers of jobs in Ireland, said Prof. Ferguson, who is chief scientific advisor to the Government.

A number of measures to promote gender equality in scientific research in Ireland  led to the percentage of female heads of projects rising from 19pc to 30pc, he said.

While research work at PhD and  post-doctorate levels, as well as junior lectureships, are split 50-50 among males and females, professorships are still heavily skewed towards males and steps are being taken to address this imbalance, he said as he launched the foundation's plan for 2018 today.

 Among the many research projects underway in Ireland is one at University College, Cork, in the area of combating anti-biotic resistance which involves working with viruses that infect and kill harmful bacteria, he said.

Stock image
Stock image

Ireland has the highest percentage of science graduates in Europe who have found work in industry.

Prof Ferguson said more needs to be done to make science more attractive for young people in Ireland. There needs to be far more science teachers in schools who actually have science degrees, he said.

Parents need to begin valuing educational courses in IT.  Gaining an IT qualification can lead to very creative work for their offspring in a whole range of areas that are unconnected with fixing computer problems in companies, he said.

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