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Government to invest extra €400m in third-level research

Resource type: News

The Irish Times |

Original Source

THE GOVERNMENT is to announce an unprecedented €400 million in funding for research activity in third-level colleges, writes SEáN FLYNN, Education Editor

The Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, and the Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, are expected to announce details of the funding under the Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions later this week.

In his address on election as Taoiseach, Mr. Cowen highlighted the importance of scientific research to Ireland’s future prosperity and identified it as a key driver of economic progress.

The joint press conference will underline the Government’s commitment to the development of the so-called “knowledge economy.”

To date, the third-level research programme has helped fund projects such as bio-medical and bio-molecular research at UCD’s Conway Institute (€36 million in funding) and the National Centre for Bio-Medical Engineering Science at NUI Galway (€32 million).

The latest funding, which will be managed by the Higher Education Authority, will bring the total investment in the third-level research programme to more than €866 million since its inception in 1998. Some €261 million was invested in the last round.

The third-level research programme funding is separate from day-to-day funding of third-level institutions. Despite the heavy investment in research, many colleges face a funding crisis. It is estimated the seven universities will run an operating deficit of €25 million this year.

A large proportion of the new funding will provide laboratory and other research infrastructure in colleges. While the main focus will be on science and technology, additional funding will be awarded to research projects in arts and humanities.

The new funding will help to deliver on the targets set for the third-level sector in the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation and the National Development Plan 2007-2013. These envisage a doubling of PhD graduates and the establishment of “world-class” research centres.

At present, the Republic is 15th of 27 OECD states when it comes to the number of students with advanced research degrees.

Third-level colleges will be asked to submit proposals to draw down the new funding. It is understood that a new emphasis will be placed on collaboration between the various colleges, in order to avoid duplication of resources.

Third-level colleges will also be required to provide evidence of strong strategic planning and excellence in research, teaching and learning. The vast majority of the funding is expected to go to the seven universities, although the 14 institutes of technology have developed their research capability hugely in recent years.

It is understood the new funding will:

• Deliver new and additional space and state-of-the-art facilities for researchers;

• Provide new “national shared facilities” or research centres, identified as being critical for Ireland;

• Support the development of “structured” PhD education initiatives – better preparing researchers for the workplace, whether in the public or private sector. The intention is that these researchers will contribute to enhanced innovation and creativity in business, in industry and across society;

• Support research in areas of new and emerging potential.

The new funding will also encourage “an all-island approach” to the development of graduate education programmes.

First established a decade ago, the Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions has helped to transform research activity in the State.

Originally, the programme was largely dependent on funding from Chuck Feeney, the Irish-American billionaire philanthropist. Now, however, the State provides all funding.

Four years ago, there was controversy when one third-level research programme cycle was “frozen” by the Government as part of a cost-cutting drive. But this was quickly rescinded, under pressure from the higher education community and business.

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Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions