The Irish government is to almost double the science budget, from €2.9 billion to €5 billion, over the next five years and is responding to criticisms that there has been too much focus on commercialisation by increasing the budget for basic research.
The new funding strategy, “Innovation 2020”, launched by Prime Minister Enda Kenny on Tuesday, gives a stronger role to the Irish Research Council. The council supports young graduates, postdoctoral researchers and early stage academics, and will now also run a competitive fund to back basic research.
Last year some 1,000 Irish researchers signed an open letter to the government, complaining that current policy places more emphasis on economically-driven research, to the neglect of fundamental science.
The new strategy is aiming for a 30 per cent increase in the number Masters and PhDs each year from 1,750 to 2,250. The number of funded post-doctoral places will also increase by 30 per cent.The plan reaffirms the country’s intent to seek membership of the European Southern Observatory and CERN, and Ireland will also apply for full membership of ELIXIR, the pan-European infrastructure for biological data.
Mark Ferguson, the head of the funding agency Science Foundation Ireland, who was responsible for a switch in emphasis away from basic towards applied research when government funding for R&D was cut as a result of the financial crisis, welcomed the new strategy. It will, “future-proof the economy,” Ferguson said.
The Irish Universities Association (IUA) also backed the plan. Increasing postgraduate numbers by 30 per cent and developing proper careers paths for researchers will put the spotlight on talent, said Ned Costello, chief executive of the IUA. "This will benefit both research and education, and ensure a flow of critical skills in to the wider economy and society.”