This week’s interviewee is Danny O’Hare (pictured), chairman of the board of trustees of Exploration Station, the new science education centre.
How do you rate the Innovation Station project in terms of others?
It’s part of the infrastructure. It’s difficult to see how you could revive the interest of young people in science and technology without the help — and it’s only help, there’s no silver bullet in this — to re-establish science and technology at the centre of young people’s lives.
The centre opens in 2010 but is there a problem of student numbers in the meantime?
The numbers have declined and they’ve recovered a little but not hugely.
So if you compare the numbers opting for, say, computing degrees, the figures have gone through the floor. There’s a huge decline from 1999 onwards.
This [centre] of itself will not do the job.
How much of a concern is this?
The Government wants to double the numbers studying for PhDs over the next period. And obviously if you’ve declining student numbers going into undergraduate studies, the pipeline at the other end is very narrow.
So there is a concern at Government level and it is pumping a lot of money through the Budget and the National Development Plan into this area.
Schemes like bringing Media Lab Europe to Dublin obviously didn’t work out. Why?
It was really unfortunate that the whole technology bubble burst.
What’s not appreciated by people is that Media Lab in the US — MIT itself — had a mantra that it would not take money from Government. It relied on the private sector.
As a result of the dotcom bubble bursting, they are now taking money from the US Government.
The MIT Media Lab is so well established — over 30 years now — that it could sustain that change.
For that change to happen when Media Lab Europe was just taking off was a killer. There may have been other things wrong as well but that was the fundamental, core issue.
Given everything that happened, do you still think the Government was right to pursue that kind of strategy?
Yes. We’ve often said in the university sector that Government has to take chances if we want to have leadership in this technological world. And, by definition, some of the chances don’t turn out.
It’s like research: not all research is successful by definition. Research fails from time to time. Hopefully the successes are good enough to pump prime companies and products and success.
By Gordon Smith