At Friday’s Innovation Ireland Forum in Dublin, the first panel discussion revolved around research funding and STEM education in Ireland.
The first panel, headed by Silicon Republic CEO Ann O’Dea, included DCU president Brian MacCraith, CTVR director Linda Doyle, Nuritas founder and CSO Nora Khaldi, and Irish Research Council member Prof Alan Smeaton.
It is important that Ireland’s researchers have a multi-disciplinary approach, and that we as a country facilitate collaboration across what perhaps might be unlikely disciplines, such as art and technology, economics and engineering, humanities and analytics. That was one of the conclusions of the first panel at the Innovation Ireland Forum hosted by Silicon Republic.
Gender, too, arose in the panel discussion. More than 117,800 people work science, technology, engineering and research in Ireland but only 25pc of those are women.
Doyle reminded delegates that in the developing world, women are seen as leaders in technology and are very much the gatekeepers of technology. “Women have a natural affinity for technology, it is not just what men gravitate towards.
“Something is wrong here. Why are we not able to harness that? There is something wrong in undergraduate education and I believe it is a context that needs to be redesigned.”
MacCraith is chairing a review of STEM education for the Irish Government, which will be reporting in late November, and he too is focussed on the gender issue.
“The ICT industry is an area of economic growth but the difficulty is only 55pc of the jobs can be provided by Irish graduates,” he told the forum, adding that a major focus of the report for Government will be on the nature of teaching, the promotion of STEM, and of course correcting the gender imbalance when it comes to selecting STEM subjects at second level.
Nora Khaldi, CSO and founder of Nuritas, a Dublin-based bio-informatics company, told the audience how it was her love of pure mathematics that led her to build a company that could change the world of food. She believes children are being made to choose far too early in their education what subjects to pursue, unlike in her own school education in France.
“It’s OK not to like science. The big decision is deciding when you are 12 that science is not exciting. We need to harness children’s innate curiosity and showcasing that science can be exciting.”
At post-graduate level, Smeaton pointed to the importance of funding excellence when it came to independent researchers, as the council does, and indeed remarked that Khaldi was once a recipient of such funding. He said this needed to be carried out in parallel to, for example, the Science Foundation Ireland centres of excellence. MacCraith agreed it was vital that as a country Ireland gets the balance right between applied and basic research.
Watch highlights from the first panel discussion at the Innovation Ireland Forum here:
Part 1 of 3:
Part 2 of 3:
Part 3 of 3: