Expanded role for SFI

5 Dec 2003

The role of Science Foundation Ireland is to be enlarged to include the management of an important national research funding programme.

The Basic Research Grants Programme, a decade-old funding scheme hitherto administered by Enterprise Ireland, will from now on be run by SFI in association with the Irish Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET).

Worth €3m per annum, the BRGP has over its lifetime funded the work of hundreds of scientists undertaking fundamental research in a range of scientific disciplines. Open to applications in the areas of biosciences, chemistry, earth sciences, mathematics and computer science, physics and engineering, the BRGP will broaden SFI’s fields of interest in this programme beyond the areas of biotechnology (BioT) and information and communications technology (ICT).

SFI has already begun processing applications for next year’s funding round. By the end of last month, it had received 800 funding applications, a 40pc increase on previous years. The deadline for full proposals is 9 January, 2004 with a final list of funding awards due to be announced next April, following a full peer review process.

In addition to the €3m base funding which will continue to come from Enterprise Ireland, SFI is to provide a 30pc supplement for universities to cover research overheads, which brings the total value of the scheme to €3.9m. In the past a funding award under the BRGP covered only the researcher’s salary and materials and additional money had to be found internally to cover running costs, which was often problematic for cash-strapped colleges. The new stipend brings the scheme more in line with similar schemes in the US, where an additional sum amounting to up to 50pc of the value of a grant is generally provided to cover research overheads.

The number of proposals to be funded will depend on their quality and the final budget set by the SFI, but the organisation expected to fund approximately 100 projects next year, according to Dr Richard Hirsh, senior scientific programme officer within the SFI’s ICT division. Paying tribute to EI’s management of the scheme for the past decade, Hirsh noted that many exciting research projects had got off the ground thanks to the programme. Under SFI’s stewardship, he expected there would be many more to come.

“We are committed to basic research and see it as broadening the base of scientists that SFI will be able to cover to nurture a burgeoning research community within the island.”

By Brian Skelly