Minister Richard Bruton: Looking back on a year of Irish research


22 Dec 20165 Shares

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Minister Richard Bruton, TD, speaks at the annual ETBI conference. Image: Maura Hickey

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Having swapped the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation for the Department of Education and Skills, Minister Richard Bruton, TD, reflects on the year that has passed in terms of Irish research.

Last December, as Jobs Minister, I published Innovation 2020, together with An Taoiseach and Minister of State Damien English. Innovation 2020 is Ireland’s five-year strategy on research, development, science and technology. In it, we set out a roadmap for progressing our goal of making Ireland a global innovation leader, driving a strong, sustainable economy and a better society.

Among the other ambitious targets to be delivered by the strategy are:

  • The number of research personnel in enterprise will be increased by 60pc to 40,000.
  • Research master’s and PhD enrolments will be increased by 30pc to 2,250.
  • Private investment of R&D performed in the public research system will be doubled.
  • 40pc increase in the share of PhD researchers transferring from Science Foundation Ireland research teams to industry.
  • Ireland’s participation in international research organisations will be expanded – we became a full member of Elixir this year, and we will explore membership options for CERN and ESO.
  • The network of research centres will be further developed, building critical mass and addressing enterprise needs.
  • A successor to the programme for research in third-level institutions will be rolled out to include investment in the creation of new – and the maintenance and upgrading of existing – facilities and equipment and ensure full utilisation.
  • €1.25bn funding under the EU framework programme Horizon 2020 will be drawn down.
  • A new programme of funding for frontier research will be introduced, providing resilience and responsiveness to meet new challenges or opportunities as they emerge.
  • Challenge-centric research to stimulate solutions-driven collaborations bringing together enterprise, higher-education institutions and public sector to identify and address national challenges.
  • A formal horizon-scanning exercise has commenced to identify areas of strategic commercial opportunity for Irish-based enterprises. This process will feed into the next research prioritisation exercise in 2018.
  • International benchmarking – we will benchmark Ireland’s performance in these areas against other comparable economies, and develop steps to improve our comparative performance.

Inspirefest 2017

In recent years, we have built up a base of performance in innovation that has brought us into the top 10 of the international rankings. The aim now is to improve on this and truly make Ireland a global leader in this area.

Innovation 2020 sets out a range of ambitious actions for delivering on this, and I am confident that we can deliver, with massive impact on our ability to grow the economy and create the jobs we need.

Our ambition in this area has been reiterated in our Action Plan for Education, which aims to make the Irish education and training system the best in Europe within a decade. The Action Plan for Education aims to increase the numbers of funded postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers, as well as the initiation of a new programme of funding for frontier research across all disciplines.

Irish Research Council

The Irish Research Council (IRC) is central to ensuring we achieve our targets in relation to research and innovation. As 2016 draws to a close, I am delighted to reflect on the council’s achievements over the past 12 months, and I would like to congratulate all those involved in delivering another successful year for Ireland’s research community.

This year, the Irish Research Council continued to support excellent, groundbreaking, important research – research that plays a vital role helping us, in Government, to address and tackle Ireland’s current and future challenges.

286 researchers received funding from the council under the Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship and Postdoctoral Fellowship schemes. From developing personalised cancer treatments to studies on the genealogy of women in Irish theatre, these schemes are funding projects across all disciplines and helping to develop Ireland as a country rich in knowledge and skills.

‘These schemes are funding projects across all disciplines and helping to develop Ireland as a country rich in knowledge and skills’

87 researchers were funded by the Irish Research Council under their Enterprise Partnership Scheme and Employment-Based Programmes in 2016. These programmes involve collaborations with a wide range of industry and NGO partners, including the likes of Boston Scientific, Kerry Group, Pfizer, Intel, the Gaelic Players’ Association, the Science Gallery and the Disability Federation of Ireland.

Providing researchers with access to employment and supporting them to undertake research in an industry setting is key to delivering on our ambition of enriching the country’s pool of knowledge and expertise and competing at the highest levels on the international stage.

Love Irish Research

Building bridges between education, research, enterprise and the community is a key priority for me as Minister. Using innovative models and incentives to create these connections is vital.

One of the achievements of the Irish Research Council this year was its #LoveIrishResearch campaign. This saw different research themes celebrated and promoted each month, and brought research very much into community settings, with the IRC holding special events to mark Culture Night, Science Week, the 1916 commemorations, and much more.

We need to make sure that the general public values the role that research plays in driving our country’s success and recognises the groundbreaking work being done by researchers in Ireland. The #LoveIrishResearch campaign is playing a key role in this regard.

‘Building bridges between education, research, enterprise and the community is a key priority for me as Minister’

Looking to 2017, I predict another exciting year for Irish research. In Budget 2017, I announced funding for the new frontier research programme, which will be operated by the Irish Research Council. This initiative will help us, as a nation, to leverage further success in the international arena and will lead to exciting new breakthroughs and discoveries across diverse disciplines.

As a Government, we want to ensure that Ireland’s ongoing economic recovery improves people’s lives. Research being supported by the Irish Research Council has the power to improve, enlighten and cultivate our society.

By Richard Bruton, TD

Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton, TD, was appointed Minister for Education and Skills in 2016 after serving as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in the previous Government. He has been a TD since 1982 and represents the Dublin Bay North constituency.

This article also appears on the Irish Research Council blog.

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