Science should be compulsory for Junior Cert – survey

15 Dec 2011

(l-r) Sinéad Keogh, senior executive at Irish Medical Devices Association, Matt Moran, director of PharamChem Ireland, and Brendan O'Callaghan, vice president for MSD's Biologics, Therapeutic Proteins and Contract Manufacturing Operations

A survey of Ireland’s life science sector has found that nine out of 10 companies believe science should be compulsory for Junior Certificate students.

The survey was undertaken by PharmaChemical Ireland (PCI), the representative body for the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, and healthcare firm MSD. Twenty-seven multinational and indigenous companies completed the survey. It’s part of a plan to create recommendations for the government on how graduate skills can be imporved to meet the needs of Ireland’s life science sector.

24 out of the 27 companies surveyed said that the life science industry needs to boost the number of standardised placements and internships. The same number agreed that science should be compulsory for the Junior Certificate exams.

16 of the 27 companies believed that the government’s new maths curriculum Project Maths would tackle maths deficiencies. 26 companies said that science, engineering and technology (SET) programmes should have integrated business, communications and management skills while 22 companies said that colleges don’t consult with the industry enough when designing SET programmes.

19 companies said that the government is not doing enough to upskill existing employees to cope with the changing demands of the life science sector and 25 of the 27 companies want a more innovative approach to teaching science in schools.

22 companies said that a science grant should be awarded to schools based on student numbers taking the subject. The same number believed that an industry placement programme could help train science teachers.

Recommendations for the government

The survey results were discussed at a workshop in the National Institute for Bioprocessing, Research and Training in UCD by academics and industry leaders to help begin to produce actions for the government to take. These recommendations will be presented to the Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn and a special event in early 2012.

“We want to ensure that Ireland’s life science sector is optimally positioned to continue to grow and create high-quality jobs,” said Matt Moran, the director of PCI.

“This survey, and the resulting recommendations to Government, helps us to stay close to industry in planning for future skills needs while at the same time ensuring that our education system is responsive to a rapidly evolving life science sector,” said Moran.

The pharmaceutical sector generates over 50pc of Irish exports, employs more than 50,000 people and contributes over €3bn in tax to the State.

“Life science is our top-performing export sector and it is crucial for Ireland’s economic recovery,” said Brendan O’Callaghan, vice-president for Biologics, Therapeutic Proteins and Contract Manufacturing Operations at MSD.

“The sector is likely to be a key determining factor in whether Ireland can generate sustainable high-quality jobs in a globally competitive, innovation-intensive, knowledge-based economy over the coming years.

“As the nature, scope and business of global life sciences changes, it is timely for ourselves and the Government to ask how our education system can be adapted to meet future industry needs,” said O’Callaghan.