The economy may be in for a rough ride in the next while but funding for universities, institutes and research will not take the hit, said Dr Pat Frain, director of NovaUCD and chairman of ProTon Europe, the pan-European network of knowledge transfer associations affiliated with European universities and other public research organisations.
“I think there is recognition that innovation and research are the way forward and that we have to become what is called a knowledge-based economy and that will require investment and that means no going back.”
Frain said there is no doubt the government strategy is based around this concept of a knowledge economy and as such he cannot see it being a casualty of an economic downturn.
“It is just too important,” he added.
This realisation that R&D is crucial to the Irish economy is a double-edged sword. While there is an assurance that funding will continue because of its importance, there is also more pressure than ever before on universities to commercialise and monetise their research.
“The thing we have to realise is that in Ireland the major increases in funding are driven by the recognition that we need to become a knowledge-based economy,” Frain said.
“There is no doubt that there is an obligation on the university to ensure that opportunities for commercialisation are identified and exploited to the full.”
Part of this whole process was the building of the technology transfer offices within the universities, he explained, and the technology transfer strengthening fund was the first real fund of any significance to support the development of technology transfer expertise within universities.
“This is all part of this government strategy under science, technology and innovation to develop a knowledge-based economy through investing heavily in research within universities and providing the wherewithal to enable that to be transferred into the economy.”
In this vein, the objective of technology transfer centres is not to make money, Frain said, but rather to transfer technology into the economy for the benefit of both the economy and society.
By Marie Boran