Go back

Funding strategy puts an emphasis on impact

Achieving “value for money” for state investment in research is a central plank of Science Foundation Ireland’s strategy launched on 12 November—but some scientists argue that it will damage the country’s reputation for quality science.

Agenda 2020 envisages that returns in the form of jobs and exports will colour how investments are made over the life of the eight-year strategy.

The strategy focuses on “excellence with impact”, said the foundation’s director general, Mark Ferguson. Researchers applying for funding under the foundation’s various schemes must demonstrate the quality of their research plan, which will be judged by a panel of international peers.

They must also complete a description of the likely impact of their research, whether in the creation of jobs and wealth, or benefits to society, or in the delivery of trained researchers. Many in the science community argue that this requirement will push funding towards near-to-market research and away from blue skies research.

Trinity College Dublin astrophysicist Peter Gallagher claimed on the day of the launch that the approach was “already damaging science” by fragmenting the research community. John Walsh of the Irish Research Staff Association said it would add to the flow of young post-doctoral researchers out of Ireland.

Two ministers backed the strategy. Richard Bruton, the minister for jobs, enterprise and innovation, told the launch that getting more out of investment in scientific research was central to government policy. Junior minister Sean Sherlock said Ireland’s continued investment in science showed it was “open for business”.

The strategy follows through on commitments to stick rigidly to 14 priority research areas, set out in a March report. After 2015, the foundation will support only these areas, which are being developed by a working group headed by Sherlock. He said seven of the 14 are now well-defined.

The strategy sets out targets including a doubling of patents, invention disclosures, licences and spin-out companies associated with foundation-funded research.

It has set a goal of attracting a “top-tier” international scientist to lead SFI-funded research by 2015.

SFI says it wants to become the world’s best science funding agency “at creating impact from excellent research and demonstrating clear value for money invested by 2020”.