No room for complacency on knowledge economy

30 Nov 2005

“It is clear that we, like many of our EU colleagues, still have some serious catching up to do if we are to reach the targets we set ourselves at Lisbon,” Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheál Martin TD told this morning’s conference on the provision of next-generation researchers at Dublin City University (DCU).

However, IBEC and the Irish Universities’ Association (IUA) have warned that in order to cater for an anticipated influx of PhD research graduates, industry and universities must work together to created an unprecedented number of sustainable research jobs.

The Government aims to double the number of science and engineering PhDs working in Ireland and to raise PhD numbers from 450 to 900 per annum. This increase is vital if companies are to seriously consider Ireland as a base for major research and development (R&D) projects. Without the necessary expertise, companies will look elsewhere and our economic success will falter.

Minister Martin told the assembly of DCU: “The relationship between R&D and employment growth is a clear and compelling one and we are all aware that without a dynamic and forward-looking approach to R&D, our advancing economy could encounter difficulties. Global competition is creating pressure for improvements in efficiency, quality and productivity and there is a growing need to innovate and add value across all aspects of business. These pressures are only going to increase.

“This Government has already placed R&D centre stage in our economic strategy. We have allocated a fivefold increase in research investment over the course of the current National Development Plan. That decision has already markedly improved our research effort, both at the academic and industry levels, as well as delivering results in terms of our ability to compete for internationally mobile research-related investment.”

Martin continued: “There is no room, however, for complacency in this highly competitive and rapidly evolving, global trading environment. It is clear that we, like many of our EU colleagues, still have some serious catching up to do if we are to reach the targets we set ourselves at Lisbon. The challenges and the targets have been plainly stated in our National Action Plan on R&D, Building Ireland’s Knowledge Economy, published last August — increasing overall R&D investment to 2.5pc of Gross National Product and virtually doubling the number of researchers in the country by 2010. Both the public and the private sector have a road to travel to meet these challenges and targets but we can and must achieve these, if we are serious about our R&D performance and our global position.”

However, both IBEC and the IUA reiterated their concerns about fielding enough researchers. Professor Ferdinand Von Prondzynski, president of IUA, said: “The availability of skilled researchers is a key component of the knowledge economy. The onus is equally on government, industry and academia to ensure that Ireland can employ these skilled personnel on graduation. We must not have a situation where PhDs fail to find a suitable job or where students choose not to embark on a PhD due to the lack of robust career opportunities.”

Industry investment in R&D crossed the €1bn threshold in 2003, the last year for which figures are available. This trend seems set to continue, with major R&D investment announcements from a number of high-profiled companies: IBM (€22m), Hewlett-Packard (€21.4m), Bell Labs (employ 120 researchers), Pfizer (€20m) and Bristol Myers Squibb (€9.6m).

Commenting on private R&D investment, Brendan Cremen, director of Xilinx, said: “Recent investment bodes well for the future. Increased private sector investment in R&D will play a significant part in securing sustainable careers for PhDs.”

Commenting on the €8m secured by companies from the EU’s Marie Curie Programme with IUA support, Prondzynski said: “Universities have been very active collaborators with industry in accessing research investment and we are keen to see this success continue.”

By John Kennedy