The presidents of seven Irish universities who are represented by the Irish Universities Association have recently openly asked the government and national research funding agencies to inquire and address the mechanism in which funding is allocated to Irish researching. This was brought on by the recent outcome of the European Research Council funding programme where it was realised that only 1 out of 408 grants awarded to researchers was Irish based. Considering the budget for funding in total was €621 million, this came at a shock to many Irish researchers.
Our national funding for primary research is objectively less than what is available to other countries, with the Irish Research Council’s Laureate Awards which are aimed at supporting investigator-led research being particularly underfunded. In 2016/2017, the Irish Science Foundation began to run a research funding programme, however this year, the programme has been reduced to half of what it once was – resulting possibly in providing funding to less than one in eight applicants.
Professor Brian MacCraith, Chair of the Council of the Irish Universities Association and President of DCU said: “In a week when some universities saw further slippage in international rankings it is clear that addressing research funding as part of an overall investment package for the sector is urgently needed. Ireland’s poor performance in this year’s ERC Funding Awards is a clear warning signal that demands urgent attention from government and the funding agencies.” He also highlighted that “..as an island economy on the western edge of Europe, it is imperative that we have a world class university sector to compete effectively for international investment.
However, things may be looking optimistic for the future as the European Research Council announced that in 2020, €2.2 billion will be available to provide funding to support nearly 1,100 researchers. The President of the ERC, Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, commented:
“I am pleased that the ERC 2020 Work Programme will allow for funding the research of over a thousand excellent scientists who believe that Europe is the best place to follow their scientific curiosity.”
The Irish Universities Association has emphasised however, the importance of balancing the continued funding of enterprise focused research with investigator led research by Irish academics.
Manny Choudhry Reporter