Maths bonus-point plan adds up, report finds
BONUS points for Leaving Certificate higher-level maths are increasingly likely after a major government report recommended their introduction.
Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe's opposition to the idea is softening in the face of calls from multinational employers and innovation leaders, who say it would improve uptake in the subject and help kickstart the smart economy.
The minister now has an "open mind" and is awaiting a report from a top-level group he set up to consider how to improve Ireland's "average" rating in maths, when compared with other developed countries.
Mr O'Keeffe would have to have the agreement of third-level colleges for such a change, but they would be unlikely to reject any strong recommendation from the minister.
The case for bonus points was given added momentum yesterday when the Government's innovation taskforce recommended their introduction as part of an attempt to generate up to 215,000 hi-tech jobs.
The report also recommends bonus prizes for business start-up plans for third-level students; a change in legislation to remove the stigma of bankruptcy; and a big increase in government funding for start-up companies.
But the opposition pointed out there were no detailed costings for implementing the recommendations and no specific deadlines either.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who launched the report yesterday in Trinity College Dublin's Science Gallery, said the changes recommended would not happen "overnight" but were necessary for renewed economic growth.
"It can be done. It must be done. And the Government is determined that it will happen," he said.
Around 131,000 people, or 6pc of the workforce, are employed in hi-tech jobs but the report believes this could be increased to 346,000 in the next 10 years.
The taskforce was set up by Mr Cowen last July in an attempt to make the country an "innovation hub" and provide high-skilled jobs for the future in the face of intense competition from low-wage economies like China, India and Brazil. Famous innovations in the past include the adding of milk to alcohol (to create Baileys), which has led to huge milk sales for Irish farmers.
The taskforce's other recommendations include a work-placement scheme for engineering and science graduates to discourage them from emigrating; the fast-tracking of residency permits for foreign PhD students employed by Irish companies; and tax relief for graduates to study in the world's top 10 business and engineering schools.
Fine Gael innovation spokeswoman Deirdre Clune said the taskforce report was doomed because there was no timetable for its implementation.
"Fianna Fail has had 13 years to build a dynamic and smart economy. It has singularly failed. So there is little hope that any of this plan's recommendations will ever be realised under Fianna Fail," she said.
Labour senator Dominic Hannigan said there were as many people studying Leaving Cert geography as there were studying maths, applied maths, chemistry and physic combined.
"We need to think about this. While the country undoubtedly needs geographers, it is through mathematics and science that we will dig our way out of this recession," he said.
The report says that 3pc of gross domestic product should be spent on research and development (R&D) -- the current rate is around 1.66pc. There is also a strong focus on getting more commercial benefits from the R&D carried out by universities. The taskforce included representatives from government departments, universities and private-sector companies.