Posted by: Paraic | July 6, 2008

University Research – how things have changed.

One of the local blogs I’ve recently discovered and have thoroughly enjoyed reading is written by the president of our own university over at UniversityDiary. A recent post entitled “University Research – What is the Agenda” caught my attention since it speaks directly to my own experience.

The post opens, “University research has really only been a serious activity in Ireland since the late 1990s.” How true that is. I completed my undergrad at DCU in 1989 and then an M.Sc. by research in 1991 that was funded through one of the very first European Framework funding programs (I think it was ESPRIT; the project was called SIMPR). After my M.Sc. I stayed at DCU for a while to work on another European-funded project in Machine Translation (Eurotra). But apart from the European funding programs at the time, there was no serious source of research funding for University research as far as I recall – nothing from within Ireland.

How things have changed! It was the significant commitment to research that I’ve seen over the past few years that was a very big part of the attraction back to Ireland. It caught my attention while working in New York. I’ve been following the developments and announcements from Science Foundation Ireland for a number of years now. It’s impressive stuff. What strikes me particularly is the cross-agency collaboration I’ve seen go in to a number of the research programs. My work now is within a CSET (Centre for Science Engineering and Technology) funded by SFI, but it’s clear that there has been significant co-operation across SFI, IDA and Enterprise Ireland in bringing these kinds of research programs to fruition. The fact that the Irish Government at a high level has set out an entire National Development Plan with a strategy for scientific research and then followed through to deliver on that with, by the way, collaboration across agencies; that impresses me (think of this as through the eyes of somebody who left with that snapshot of research in Ireland in the early 90’s).

Ferdinand does raise some valid issues related to the current research environment (I can attest to the contractual conditions of researchers here) and there should be some focus on these, but things certainly have come a LONG way. I wholeheartedly hope that the government, while it looks for ‘savings’ in the current economic climate, stays the course on its commitment to research funding – it’s planting the seeds for the future.

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