During Science Foundation Ireland’s call for consultation on their Agenda 2020 and Strategy 2013 documents a number of interest groups, such as the RIA Committee for Astronomy and Space Sciences, sent letters supporting funding for basic research (which appeared to be diminished in the planned SFI budgets). The institute of Physics also sent letters to both SFI and Ireland’s minister for Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock, TD.
An except from the IOP Letter to SFI:
Science Foundation Ireland Consultation – Strategy Agenda 2020 and Operational Plan for 2013
While welcoming Science Foundation Ireland’s excellence driven agenda, the Institute of Physics calls attention to the apparent lack of any specific funding for excellent research for knowledge (frontiers research), which falls outside the 14 nominated priority research areas. The Institute suggests a specific fund, based on 10% of SFI’s annual budget to be directed towards areas not covered elsewhere in SFI’s budget.
The importance of such research is well-recognised globally as an essential part of supporting science in general and, in particular, leading to long term economic gains. Without it, Ireland runs a considerable risk of losing exceptional talent to overseas competitor nations, reputational damage to our emerging position as an innovative country, the consequent difficulty of attracting world-class researchers and industry here and the very significant demoralising effect on Irish scientists. Even 10% of SFI’s total budget is probably too small to build a competitive scientific community that can win downstream EU funding. In a wider context Ireland should invest 10% of its core science research budget of €500M annually, into basic research.
This response also includes comments on SFI’s public outreach programme and its aims to increase numbers taking science at second-level. The IOP position articulated in this response has broad support from physicists working in industry, applied research and basic research.
An excerpt from the IOP Letter to Minister Sherlock:
Re: SFI Consultation – Strategy Agenda 2020 and Operational Plan for 2013
The Institute of Physics in Ireland has submitted a response to the SFI Consultation – Strategy Agenda 2020 and Operational Plan for 2013 as attached. We would like firstly to note appreciation for the continuing government efforts to fund science research and see this as essential to Ireland’s economic recovery. Within the budget given, though, we would view with some concern the marginalisation of fundamental research and would particularly ask you to note the following:
1. Research in basic physics produces graduates with significant numerical and technical skills which are in high demand by industry
2. Basic research is part of an eco-system which feeds directly into applied and translational research which lead to direct links to industry – these areas are all interlinked and cannot produce results alone
3. Fundamental physics such as the study of the origins of the universe is a significant driver of interest in science. Students are attracted to those colleges offering expertise in these areas. Colleges cannot provide this expertise without continuity of funding in the relevant research areas.
The report of the National Research Prioritisation Exercise makes clear that such research must continue to be funded along with the recommended priority areas. However it is not clear currently what government agency is tasked with this. We would very much appreciate your attention to this and would be very willing to meet at any time to discuss this further.
On Wednesday, October 17th, SFI hosted a “webinar” to discuss how the Agenda 2020 and Strategy 2013 documents would be altered, in response to input from the consultation. One of the main points is, instead of having 95% of SFI’s funding allocated to the National Research Prioritisation, leaving 5% open for proposals outside of the NRP, now 100% of proposals must fall under the NRP. SFI conceded in the presentation that pure maths is left out of these calls, but that funding for PhDs is the most essential ingredient for pure maths research. So, in response, SFI has plans to introduce a postgraduate funding scheme, where by the student will partner with industry and will likely be required to take business courses.
Listen to the webinar yourself.