‘Finland’s R&D effort is a model for Ireland to copy’ – innovation minister

26 Apr 2012

Ireland's Minister for Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock, TD

Ireland’s Minister for Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock, TD, has been checking out Finland’s R&D focus and its education system during a two-day visit to Helsinki. He said Finland’s R&D model is one Ireland could emulate, as part of the country’s path to economic recovery.

Sherlock was in Helsinki for a two-day visit where he met with Finnish research and education policy makers, funding agencies and innovators.

Yesterday, he spoke at the SHOK conference in Helsinki about industry-driven research.

The conference looked at progress in the operation of Finland’s centres for science, technology and innovation, which are known as SHOKs.

In recent years, Finland has created six SHOK centres, which are large-scale, research centres involving industry and academic collaboration.

Finland’s enterprise development agency TEKES, the Academy of Finland and the private sector support the centres.

The SHOKs address key research and innovation issues in the areas of ICT, clean energy, forestry, health and well-being, mechanical engineering and the real-estate/construction sector.

During his visit, Sherlock learned about how Finland is redirecting its science, technology and innovation strategy, as he met with senior officials of the Finnish Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Education, as well as with the enterprise development agency, TEKES, and the Academy of Finland.

Sherlock also visited the Aalto Centre for Entrepreneurship.

R&D focus in Finland

At the SHOK conference, Sherlock spoke about how he looks to the Finnish R&D example.

“I was appointed Minister for Research and Innovation just over a year ago. In that short time, I have frequently found myself citing the Finnish example, as a powerhouse R&D nation, to my ministerial colleagues on how best to emerge from a deep fiscal depression, as you did in the 1990s, and as Ireland is trying to do likewise now,” said Sherlock.

He reflected on how Finland is internationally recognised as one of the world’s “top-R&D performing nations”, with a research investment that is 3.9pc of GDP.

“You are the envy of many nations, including Ireland, as we strive to develop a truly knowledge-intensive economy,” said Sherlock.

Ireland’s scientific leaps

He also spoke about how Ireland has been building on its research and innovation base to create a competitive advantage.

“Our research effort has been one of our true success stories of recent years – where, despite all of the negativity associated with our financial crisis, we have enhanced our international standing in global research by steadily building a credible research base,” said Sherlock.

He also spoke about the scientific leaps Ireland has made in recent years. For instance, Sherlock pointed to how Ireland was ranked 34th in the world in 2003 for the quality and impact of its scientific capacity.

“We managed to move quickly up the international leader board to break into the top 20 in the world in 2009 for quality of our research.”

Ireland’s science rankings

He touched on how Ireland is now ranked third in the world for its research capacity in immunology and eighth in the world for materials science.

He also spoke about how Ireland is now the second-largest exporter of medical devices in Europe, surpassed only by Germany.

Sherlock touched on the work of Science Foundation Ireland and how Ireland needs to target future R&D investments in areas that have a direct link to both future economic and societal needs.

“For our future success, what is required now is, in short, a step change in the targeting of Ireland’s public investment in research based on potential for economic return, particularly in the form of jobs,” said Sherlock.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic