19 Mar 2015   |   News

Scientists hit out at Irish government’s research policy

Over 800 scientists sign letter calling for a stronger focus on basic research

More than 800 research scientists have signed a letter expressing concern about the balance between basic and applied research funding in Ireland, amidst preparations for a new national strategy for science.

In a letter to The Irish Times, researchers complain that policy places more emphasis on economically-driven research, to the neglect of fundamental science.

“We are deeply concerned about the research policies implemented by the current government,” the letter reads.

The previous policy of sustained investment in scientific excellence has given way to a short-sighted drive for research in a limited range of areas likely to yield a commercial return, they write. Taken together with below EU-average investment in research, steadily decreasing core grants to universities and a constant demand to increase student numbers, the situation is ominous. 

Without seeding the ground with basic research investment, “there will be no discoveries to capitalise on,” the signatories say.  Irish universities are slipping in international rankings as direct result of current policies.

The signatories come from all Irish universities and Irish researchers based in the US, UK and other countries.

The government is currently drawing up a successor to its Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2013. An invitation for written submissions has been put out, with a closing date of Monday, 23 March.

Echoes of ERC warning

Similar concerns for basic research spending in Ireland were raised by the head of the European Research Council, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, last year. At an address given in Dublin in November, he said, “Ireland has been diminishing its support for pioneering research, he said. “If you persist and point the system in the wrong direction it can be very damaging and you can’t easily come back.”

Full letter and signatories here

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