Keynote Address by Sean Sherlock, TD, Minister for Research & Innovation, at Irish Research Council Annual Symposium 2013: “The Value of Investing in researchers in Ireland”

Introduction

I would like to thank the Irish Research Council for the invitation to speak here today and I would like to especially welcome all of the Council’s award holders.

The focus of this year’s symposium “the value of investing in researchers” is something I strongly believe in.

Over the last two and a half years I have had the opportunity to see first-hand the real impact that research investment is having in Ireland – both in terms of economic recovery and societal impact.

I have also had the opportunity to meet many researchers at varying stages of their careers, and I am continually impressed, not alone at the quality and talent that we have in Ireland, but also the level of commitment and enthusiasm displayed by our researchers.

 

Research Quality

Ireland’s research base is one of the true Irish success stories of recent years – where despite all of the negativity associated with our financial crisis, our standing in the global research community has continually been enhanced.

As a country our international standing in the quality of our research has been greatly increased and we are now in the top 20 countries in overall scientific global rankings.

In fact the European Commission has just announced that Ireland is one of four EU countries getting the most out of innovation, according to a new indicator of innovation output.

This is highly significant as it measures the extent to which ideas from innovative sectors are able to reach the market, providing better jobs and making Europe more competitive. 

This is a very positive indication of improvement in Ireland’s competitiveness in key areas of the economy. 

The indicator measures factors such as - an economy with a high share of knowledge-intensive sectors, fast-growing innovative firms, high levels of patenting and competitive exports.

 

Research Prioritisation

I have been very clear since taking up my post as Minister for Research and Innovation that we need to be more strategic in relation to our research investments. 

The research prioritisation report has given us the blueprint, and this provides us with the means to develop a real competitive advantage in specific areas.

The 14 identified research areas give us the greatest potential and opportunity for enterprise collaboration. 

A central part of this Government’s plan for jobs and growth is to ensure that research is better targeted at turning good ideas into products and jobs.

We are consolidating our research capabilities through major collaborations right across our Higher Education Institutions and with industry partners.

The underlying philosophy is the forging of deep and lasting alliances between industry and our research community.

Supporting world-class researchers in their ground-breaking work will ensure that we continue to maintain, attract and develop dynamic partnerships, and create the quality jobs we need.

It will also help in creating and maintaining a strong pool of excellent talent within our shores.

 

Economic Impact of Research

Research investments have already had a very positive impact on our industrial development and highlights how research, development and innovation can contribute significantly to job creation and economic prosperity.

In 2012 more than 40% of IDA jobs announcements have been in companies with links to research teams - and account for 4,575 of the new IDA client win jobs announced last year.

The impact of our research investment can also be seen in the figures for R&D expenditure by the business sector. Expenditure on R&D by the business sector trebled between 1997 and 2010, from €600m to €1.8bn.

 

INSIGHT – SFI Research Centre

Back in February of this year I was delighted to participate with Minister Bruton in announcing €200 million worth of Exchequer investment in seven world class SFI Research Centres.

Partnering directly with industry this represents the largest State supported research programme investment of its kind in Ireland with a total investment of €300 million.

One such centre is the INSIGHT Centre for Big Data Analytics – a key component in delivering on the Government’s Big Data Disruptive Reform in the Action Plan for Jobs 2013.

It represents a joint collaboration between researchers at UCD, NUIG, UCC and DCU, with partnering institutions such as the RIA, TCD, NUI Maynooth, Tyndall National Institute, and DIT.

INSIGHT brings together a critical mass of over 200 researchers from Ireland’s leading ICT centres – namely DERI, CLARITY, Clique, 4C and TRIL – who will develop a new generation of data analytics technologies in a number of key areas.

 

However, it is the partnership with industry which is the critical component.

The research being conducted at INSIGHT will be a genuine game-changer in the area of Big Data – from machine learning, decision analytics and social network analysis to linked data, recommender systems, and the sensor web.

The opportunities that will result are, I believe, one of the major attractions for INSIGHT’s industry partners.

Exchequer investment of some €58 million is being matched by investment in the region of €30 million from INSIGHT’s industry partners – which number close to 50.

The sheer scale of this industry commitment is a major endorsement of our research capability, as global industry clearly recognises the excellence of our research.

Of course, while industry stands to gain immensely from INSIGHT, it is clear that we expect a return on this State investment.

INSIGHT sits clearly within the Research Prioritisation space mentioned earlier and I am confident that it and the other six SFI Research Centres will be capable of delivering sustainable economic return through their contribution to enterprise development, employment growth, job retention and improvements in quality of life.

 

Broad Research Base

However, in my role as Minister, I am also very conscious of the overall health of our higher education and research system.

The prioritisation report, while identifying 14 areas for targeted investment, also acknowledges that there is a need to continue funding across the broad base of disciplines and research areas.

In particular the report notes the importance of maintaining non-targeted funding to support excellent basic research and also needs-driven sectoral research in areas of broad Government policy objectives.

This message is repeated in the National Strategy for Higher Education which also highlights the importance of maintaining the link between education and research.

This broader investment plays an equally important role in our system – it provides a research-informed teaching environment across the spectrum of higher education provision; it allows for new thinking and new ideas to emerge; it provides the training and supports for researchers in the early stages of their careers; and for many of you here today it ensures the continuing development of our expertise in humanities and social sciences research.

 

Horizon 2020

I was pleased that political agreement was reached on the €70 billion Horizon 2020 programme during the Irish Presidency.

We have set a target of up to €1 billion in research and technology funding under the Horizon 2020, which is a large increase from the target of €600 million under the current programme.

Its increased support for SMEs under the new programme will help to increase the economic benefits and job creation flowing from the research conducted.

 

Research Council

I would like to return to the theme of today’s event – the value of investing in researchers.

This is a very appropriate title given that today’s event has been arranged for you – the researchers.

Too often we talk about investing in “research” or in specific fields/disciplines – whereas the investment is really in people and talent – the research community.

Sometimes this gets lost or crowded out in the debate on research impact.

We must continually remember that a key deliverable from research investment is the education and training of highly skilled researchers.

As part of our investment in research, we must ensure that we have the structures and conditions in place that will support and develop researchers at various stages in their careers and for a broad range of careers – be it in the higher education system, in industry or as entrepreneurs.

The Council’s Employment Based Programme is an excellent example of successful collaboration, as it educates researchers with an insight into business aspects of research and innovation and facilitates research collaboration, knowledge transfer and networking between Irish based enterprise and researchers.

The important role in skills development is not just in the specific research topic being undertaken.

The development of a highly skilled talent pool that is flexible to new concepts and new technologies, has good communication and team-working skills and the ability to be adaptable and employable across a variety of jobs and sectors will allow Ireland to continue to develop home-grown companies and attract foreign investment.

The Irish Research Council plays a very particular role in this regard. 

The Council’s raison d’etre is to support and develop researchers across all disciplines in the early stages of their careers.

Today’s event is a great example of that, providing you with the opportunity to meet with peers from other institutions and disciplines, and with concrete information and advice on future employment and funding opportunities.

The Council is different to other funders in that it awards funding to the individual.

This strategy reflects the belief that it is important to encourage individuals to become independent researchers early in their careers and the Council’s programmes are designed to act as the first steps on a researcher’s career ladder.

Through its various programmes, the Council is nurturing the next generation of Irish researchers, promoting inter-disciplinary research, enhancing collaboration with enterprise, leveraging EU funding, and providing a strong voice for the promotion and support of emerging researchers in Ireland.

Conclusion

I firmly believe that continued investment in education, research and innovation will provide us with strong foundations for the future and each of you here today has an important role to play in that.

I would like to once again thank the Council for organising today’s symposium and for all the work it is doing throughout the year in supporting and nurturing researchers.

And finally I wish all you an informative and interesting event, I hope today provides you with plenty of food for thought as you consider your next steps in your research career.

ENDS