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Government defends small reduction in science spend

The government has strongly defended its decision to reduce the capital expenditure programme for research for 2012.

Details of the programme were released on 10 November. Most areas associated with research and enterprise were left at 2011 levels, including support for Enterprise Ireland (€132 million), the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (€27m) and the Tyndall National Institute (€3m).

Science Foundation Ireland, however, one of the two key sources of research funding, will see its budget for next year fall from €160.8m to €156m.

The foundation’s director general, Graham Love, welcomed the support received, saying it showed the government had remained supportive of the move towards a knowledge economy despite the difficult economic picture.

The Higher Education Authority, which runs the PRTLI, also welcomed the allocation of resources.

However, the decision was condemned by the main opposition party, Fianna Fail, which said it would speed up the exodus of graduates and post-doctoral researchers in search of career opportunities.

The Irish Research Staff Association also warned of a brain drain because of the cut.

The spending plan was defended by the minister for jobs, enterprise and innovation, Richard Bruton, and the junior minister in the department, Sean Sherlock, who is responsible for research.

“The plan reaffirms the Government’s commitment to the research and innovation agenda,” Sherlock said. The foundation would be able to continue funding its cohort of individual researchers and its 28 major research centres without interruption, he said.

It supports the work of about 3,000 scientists, and their output—and their success in publishing their work in leading journals—in turn supports foreign direct investment.

“We are maintaining the critical investment in the necessary human capital that feeds into the wider enterprise engine via EI [Enterprise Ireland] and IDA [the state’s development authority],” Sherlock said.

The government wants to adjust the direction of research funding, so that it is, in Sherlock’s phrase, “enterprise facing”.

Its targeted areas include marine energy; the biosciences; arts, humanities and social sciences; medicine; pharmaceuticals; food and health; and nanotechnology.

Nevertheless, the funding systems remain intact and despite the change in emphasis will continue to support fundamental research.