Scientists warn Irish Govt of ‘perfect storm’ to hit research and education

18 Mar 2015

More than 900 Irish scientists have warned of a perfect storm for scientific research and education in Ireland over what they claim are shortsighted research policies aimed at commercialising research.

At the crux of the issue is the current policy of focusing on applied research that can be commercialised, but not so much of a focus on basic research which the scientists warn will have a knock-on effect on science education and training in the longer term.

The scientists, located both in Ireland and abroad, said in an open letter to to Government they were “deeply concerned” about the research policies implemented by the current Government.

They warned a focus on short-term gain could undermine the gains of the last 15 years.

“The policy of sustained investment in scientific excellence that helped build a vibrant scientific community in Ireland over the past 15 years has given way to a short-sighted drive for commercialisable research in a very limited set of prescribed areas.

“Along with an investment in research that is below the EU average, steadily decreasing core grants to universities, and a constant demand to increase student numbers, these policies are creating a perfect storm for scientific research and education in Ireland and are undermining our abilities to carry out world-class research, to retain scientific talent in the country and also to educate future scientists and build a real and sustainable knowledge economy.”

While welcoming the Government’s current investment in applied research, they warn that without a continued parallel investment, longer-term fundamental research will mean there will be no discoveries to capitalise on.

‘Basic research and science education go hand in hand’

The scientists also warn that current science policies are also affecting science education.

“A proper training in science requires hands-on experience in laboratories, with supervision and support from graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and other researchers.

“Because of the continually changing funding policy, the numbers of research staff are steadily decreasing and we have now reached the stage where not all science students are getting the opportunity to do real experimental work during their studies. Thus, our ability to deliver a quality education is being seriously degraded.

“As a consequence, Irish universities are being dragged down in international rankings and this slide will inevitably continue if the current policies are maintained.”

The 900 scientists have called on the Government to devise a successor to the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2013, “to reconsider their current policies and rebalance the funding of science to strongly support not only applied or ‘oriented basic’ research in prioritised areas but also basic research across the full range of scientific disciplines.”

Brain storm image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years