Wednesday, 13 January 2016
Innovation 2020: Statements
I welcome the opportunity to address Seanad Éireann on Innovation 2020, Ireland's new strategy for research and development, science and technology. Innovation 2020 is based on a shared vision of Ireland becoming a global innovation leader, driving a strong sustainable economy and a better society. Its launch was the culmination of a year-long process of collaboration and consultation on how Ireland should aim to achieve this vision. We have discussed this issue in debates here in the past year or two which contributed to it. I also acknowledge the significant contribution made to the development of Innovation 2020 by Ireland's research and scientific community and enterprise, as well as by many Departments and Government agencies. We conducted an extensive consultation process with stakeholders from industry, academia, the public sector and civil society and I had the pleasure of hosting a consultative forum in Farmleigh in July last year. Many of the issues raised and discussed are reflected in the final strategy. I have met many of the people who contributed to the process and was struck by the shared sense of drive and ambition for Ireland's future.
We have made significant progress in our national innovation system, which started from a very low base by international comparisons, over the past ten or 15 years.Ireland has today become home to nine of the top ten global ICT companies, nine of the top ten global pharmaceutical companies, 17 of the top 25 global medical devices companies, and more than half of the world's leading financial services institutions. Ireland is now in the global top 20 for the quality of our scientific research.
Our investment in research and innovation has been instrumental in strengthening indigenous enterprise, securing, diversifying and growing foreign direct investment, licensing new technologies, establishing new companies, and providing the highly educated workforce needed to grow the economy and contribute to society. In Innovation 2020, we commit to building on this significant progress. Key to delivering our vision is a commitment to increasing public and private investment in research. During the period 2008 to 2013, public funding was redesigned to improve its impact and incremental improvements to the research and development tax credit were introduced to support growth in business expenditure on research and development such that more than two thirds of expenditure on research and development occurred in the business sector, with just under one third of expenditure coming from the public sector. To ensure that we are best placed to build on what we have already achieved, we present a path to obtaining an increase in public research investment and to thereby leverage greater private investment in order to bring Ireland's public and private research and development expenditure to 2.5% of GNP by 2020.
Increased investment will be targeted at increasing the number of research personnel in enterprise to 40,000; increasing annual research masters and PhD enrolments by 500 to 2,250; doubling private investment in research and development within the public research system; further developing the network of centres, building critical mass and addressing enterprise needs. They are our research centres, and today we launched ADAPT in Trinity, introducing a successor to the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions to provide investment in new research facilities and equipment, and the maintenance and upgrading of existing ones. A key part of the message coming out of our universities and institutes of technology is that we must invest in new infrastructure but also make sure we preserve the equipment and infrastructure we built over the past ten or 15 years and keep it running to the highest level, which involves allocating money to maintenance also. Expanding Ireland's participation in international research organisations, including CERN, is also part of the actions.
Our enterprise base must be resilient and internationally competitive, and innovation is central to ensuring that these aims are achieved. We are putting in place supports to encourage greater engagement in research and development in both indigenous and foreign owned enterprises and in both small and medium enterprises, SMEs, and large-scale enterprises. Enterprises will be supported through direct supports, research and development tax credits, and the new knowledge development box.
We will also simplify and streamline supports for enterprise and make them more easily accessible. A key part of the strategy was to make that road map clear so that people could see where they could plug into the system. We also had our second innovation showcase in December, which was about displaying what we have on offer to the public research system, encouraging more companies to get involved, and seeing where they fit into the system. The aim of this is to get more companies involved in the public research system in collaboration with our education institutes where we will achieve our best results. We will achieve innovation leadership in key sectors where we can sustain a competitive edge and will continue to target investment at strategically important areas of commercial opportunity.
We are fully aware that our indigenous companies need to perform research and continually innovate to remain competitive in a global marketplace. The fact that we have established a strong research system is one of the main reasons we continue to be able to attract important foreign direct investment to Ireland and encourage many companies, both from Ireland and abroad, to set up here. Last year we had the highest number, with over 19,000 companies starting up here.
To achieve our vision of becoming a global innovation leader, there are a number of areas on which we plan to focus. We want to see greater numbers of enterprises engaging in research and development, and more enterprises progressing to a point where innovation is embedded as a key part of their business model. We intend to continue to concentrate the majority of our competitive public research funding on the sectors where we believe Ireland can achieve the greatest return on our investment. The world is constantly changing, and we must continually re-evaluate our priorities to ensure that our investment in research and innovation is optimal. In implementing this strategy we will seek to identify areas of strategic commercial opportunity to ensure that Ireland can respond to and gain competitive advantage in new areas.
Innovation is completely dependent on knowledgeable and skilled people, and we have significant competitive advantage in our people. With one of the youngest populations in Europe and one of the most highly educated in the world, Ireland has a resource that cannot be easily replicated elsewhere. We will continue to develop our talent base with exceptional educational programmes and facilities, complemented by and integrated with world-class research programmes. As Minister with responsibility for skills, developing the talent of our population is of particular interest to me, and is an underlying aim of Innovation 2020. When we talk to people in companies who choose to grow or locate here from another country they tell us it is about talent, and there is a talent war taking place. They are coming to Ireland because they know we have the skills they need, but we cannot take that for granted. We have to build on it and make sure we have the talent for the future to ensure those companies will be able to grow and expand. Talent is critical to the successful realisation of our national vision and giving Ireland the capacity to exploit opportunities, both established and emerging. Our success in delivering on our vision will depend on our people undertaking the research, working in and creating successful enterprises, and contributing to the society in which we live. Ensuring that there are sufficient numbers of trained people to deliver our strategy will be key. We plan, therefore, to increase the number of research personnel in enterprise to over 40,000 and to increase the number of research masters and PhD enrolments to 2,250 by 2020.
We will support the full continuum of talent development from primary level through to postdoctoral research. We are also committed in this strategy to supporting the full continuum of research from basic to applied, including frontier research as well as research aligned to current priorities. Frontier research ensures diversity and provides resilience and responsiveness so that as new challenges and opportunities emerge, we will be positioned to respond quickly to the changed circumstances. We will support qualified researchers to undertake project-based frontier research across all disciplines on the basis of excellence and the Irish Research Council will have a key role in supporting that. It is also a major factor in making sure we have the talent we need. We have to fund across disciplines to make sure we get the talent that both industry and our public research system need to be able to grow and expand.
Continued support for a well-equipped research environment is an investment in the tools that will keep us at the cutting edge of research and innovation. We will further develop our research infrastructure to ensure that we are providing the platform for excellent research activity. Yesterday, we made another announcement of €28 million to over 21 different projects through Science Foundation Ireland. That is investing in the infrastructure that is needed if we are to continue with the excellence of our research.
The full range of research activity includes research for both economic and societal benefit, and research in either of these often benefits both. Research in the public sector is crucial for underpinning a strong, developed economy and developing a progressive, sustainable society delivering modern public services efficiently to meet growing needs and expectations. We will adopt a challenge-centric approach by bringing partners across academia, business, public service and civil society together to collaborate and focus on research that has the potential to address national and global challenges. It also gives us the opportunity to engage the wider public in setting those challenges by asking them what they believe are those challenges. Much of our work in terms of this agenda is advocacy and encouraging people of all ages to get involved in the science agenda and take up the STEM subjects. Asking them to identify the challenges for society is a way of engaging them in the process.
The importance of collaboration in research cannot be underestimated, and a key part of this strategy is collaboration, both nationally and internationally. Collaboration across disciplines can provide new insights and lead to the development of novel products and services with commercial potential. Ireland has an advantage in pursuing this type of interdisciplinary research. The relatively small size and highly interconnected nature of the Irish public research system greatly facilitates collaboration and co-operation. Over the course of implementing the strategy, we will further promote interdisciplinary research.
We will also further incentivise collaboration between institutions and centres to create the critical mass necessary for world-leading research and ensure optimum use of research facilities. At the launch of the ADAPT research centre in Trinity today, I complimented the educational institutions for working together through those research centres because as is the case with those of us in politics, we work together but we are also in competition. Our research institutions are also in competition but when it is important they also work together. Through our research centres the best brains in our universities and institutes of technology can work together, which is key, and unique to this country. It is not seen in many other countries. We are the envy of the world in the way our system encourages people to work together on projects. We want to encourage more of that.
Collaboration between the enterprise sector and the public research system is also essential if the full value of investment in the public research system is to be realised. Our enterprise development agencies and Knowledge Transfer Ireland will focus on increasing the breadth and depth of collaboration between industry and academia for mutual benefit. A key part of our work in recent years was to make it possible for companies to get involved, and we are trying to maximise the resources. Already, taxpayers are funding over €700 million in terms of the research agenda, and we are looking to increase that greatly in the years ahead but to get the best value for our money it must be matched with money from the private sector. We are achieving results because of that combination of both private and public money, and taxpayers deserve no less.They deserve to see their money being used to its maximum potential.
As well as encouraging research at a national level, both in the public and private sectors, it is crucial for Ireland to participate in international collaborative research. The benefits of international and EU collaboration in research and innovation accrue not only to our researchers but also to our enterprise base and public policymakers. These include access to shared infrastructure and facilities and collaboration in addressing global societal challenges. By collaborating with international partners, we aim to secure €1.25 billion from the current framework programme for research and innovation - Horizon 2020. We had the opportunity to debate that here a number of months ago. There is a good deal of interest in Horizon 2020 and Ireland's success in that respect. We are ahead of our targets for the past two years, which is good. If we are to reach the high target of securing of €1.25 billion, we need more companies, including in small and medium enterprises and multinationals, to get involved in making applications for, and bidding to win, funding from Horizon 2020. We have exceeded our first year target and up to May last year we had secured almost €180 million in funding from Horizon 2020. We are committed to leveraging international and EU engagement to Ireland's advantage, including through our membership of international research organisations and boosting our returns from EU programmes. We will continue our membership of existing international research organisations and build on that by opening negotiations on membership of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, CERN, and the European Southern Observatory in order to obtain the best deal for Ireland.
Key to supporting an innovative enterprise sector is an effective regulatory framework for protecting intellectual property. We will encourage a competitive business environment, promote the commercialisation of products from publicly funded research and help ensure competitive advantage by assisting enterprises to use intellectual property to increase their levels of innovation. Considerable intellectual property has been built up in our educational institutes over the years and it is now time to put that to use for this country and turn it into products and services that will benefit society and also create jobs. We will try to do much more of that through this strategy over the next three or four years. We will seek to maximise the transfer of knowledge between research performing organisations and enterprise to promote greater application of research results. This will result in more licensing of technologies, the creation of more spin-out companies and, ultimately, jobs.
Research contributes to the success of the enterprise sector but it also adds to societal well-being in other areas such as education, health, housing, environment, mobility, connectivity, culture, and policy formulation. Innovations in these areas contribute greatly to improving the quality of life and they can, in turn, create opportunities for enterprise, as products and services developed to solve a problem in Ireland can be commercialised and implemented elsewhere. Many of our companies are building their success off the back of that. We want to encourage more of that, to make it easier for those companies and to facilitate that as best we can.
We will realise the full potential of public service innovation to provide better and more efficient public services. Innovation is key to driving continuous improvement in the way public services are delivered and is crucial in improving the efficiency and quality of service delivery, while reducing the costs involved in providing those services.
Science and innovation have the capacity to improve our quality of life and to deliver a better society for all but we can only deliver on the vision set out in this strategy if we work collectively and in concert with others. The strategy was put together by and will be implemented and driven through collaboration. It is of key importance that we get that message out. I thank Senators for affording me the opportunity to outline the strategy and to have a discussion with them on it. I am aware there is great interest among them in the research and science agenda.
The process of developing this strategy during the past year was a journey for many people involved in it who might not always have been familiar with what is involved in the research agenda by our top researchers in this country. Many Departments now realise the importance of funding for this area and also the importance of carrying out their own research to be able to deliver public services in a better and more efficient way, again making better use of taxpayers' money. I believe we have the commitment necessary from all the stakeholders across the system to do this and to achieve this. It is an ambitious strategy. Effectively, it will provide for doubling the spend, between taxpayers and private industry, in this sector over the next four or five years but we have to do that. The Taoiseach is very much behind this. He launched the strategy and he believes in it. He has met many of the Departments and stressed the importance of prioritising this sector when it comes to budget time. He understands the importance of this sector, as do many Ministers and Members across all parties. This is continuing the journey we started in the past ten to 15 years and we will continue to build on it. We need to be ambitious to aim high. If we are to compete with Denmark, Sweden and Finland, we have to spend this kind of money. We have to fund this kind of research and development to drive innovation. If we consider what is happening in Israel, we can see that this is the level we must target. We have a five-year plan and we will need further plans thereafter. I thank Members for their time.
That was a super presentation and I congratulate the Minister of State on it. I am totally supportive of all that he said. I would like to highlight the area of education for innovation. The Minister of State said:
Innovation is completely dependent on knowledge and skilled people, and we have significant competitive advantage in our people. With one of the youngest populations in Europe and one of the most highly educated in the world, Ireland has a resource that cannot be easily replicated elsewhere.
I had the honour of being the rapporteur for the Oireachtas joint committee on its report on important key issues for female entrepreneurs and women in the technology industry. We made 12 recommendations and there was cross-party support for all of them. I will outline an important element, namely, the skills required to innovate. There is a national challenge in the context of increasing the number of second level students - boys and girls - who take the STEM subjects, namely, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Without a grounding in these subjects at second level, students are not able to pursue the related courses at third level. They then become excluded from a range of exciting careers in multinational and growth Irish companies. Likewise, they are unlikely to go on to spot entrepreneurial possibilities in these specialist areas and lead start-up companies to exploit such possibilities. There have been a series of policy responses to increase interest in STEM subjects. The awarding of extra points for higher mathematics achievement at leaving certificate by a former Minister for Education, Mary Coughlan, is one direct incentive which is proving effective. Smart Futures is a collaborative Government-industry programme promoting STEM careers to second level students in Ireland and highlighting opportunities in careers such as pharma, medical devices, information and communication technologies and energy.
From my research as rapporteur for the Oireachtas joint committee report, I note there is a particularly acute challenge of encouraging girls to study the STEM subjects. The committee had access to research findings which provide valuable insights on the attitude of women to STEM subjects and related careers. The submission by a transition year student, Ms Anna Porter, contained original research among 216 women who had made a career in STEM-related subjects. A genuine interest or passion for STEM subjects and a subsequent career in this area emerged as the main motivation for the majority of respondents. Parents and teachers were the predominant influencers on choosing these subjects and careers. Peer pressure was cited as another important influence. The key recommendation by this young person was that STEM subjects need to be presented in as interesting a way as possible at school level. To counteract gender stereotyping, these subjects need to be taught in a way that will appeal to students in general and will, in particular, stimulate girls' interest, passion and curiosity. I spoke with a women in enterprise group comprising some 45 females last night and I made the point that one will not thrive unless one has a passion for the subject area in which one is working. We need more women to participate in the STEM subjects and in the information technology sector. Sadly, only 25,000 women out of a total of 125,000 are employed in it.
The Accenture company, as part of the Women Invent Tomorrow programme with the Silicon Republic company, has carried out extensive research on the barriers facing parents, young girls and teachers when it comes to making choices about STEM-related subjects at school and which, in turn, will facilitate or not their choice of subsequent career. The original survey covered 1,000 persons - young women aged 18 to 23 years, secondary school teachers and parents with daughters in post-primary education. The key barriers identified include negative stereotypes persist that STEM subjects are more suitable for boys and that the subjects are overly difficult. From my research and the evidence I have gathered over my lifetime, I have found that if one has good teachers, one will learn anything. I am referring to teachers who are fully competent to teach the STEM subjects but I am not sure that is the case everywhere. Parents lack information on STEM career options, yet they are the main influencers when it comes to advising their daughters on how to define educational and career paths. A disconnect exists between industry’s skill needs and students subject choices for leaving certificate.I would put full responsibility on parents who should encourage their daughters to take STEM subjects, including maths and engineering. I believe it is down to them, but they do not understand; they think it is just being at a computer every day. It is exciting and if one talks properly, women can find and follow their North Star if they have the education and backup they need, but parents need to have vision to encourage young women to do it.
I refer to two recommendations made in the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on key issues for female entrepreneurs in Ireland and their participation in the tech sector. What we are talking about is all about innovation. Recommendation 11 reads:
The Committee recommends that a more powerful, sustained and clear campaign to inform parents, teachers and girls of the intrinsic value and career benefits of studying STEM subjects and considering related careers should be undertaken, this should be led by Government, engaging industry to a greater degree, as well as teachers and parents associations.
Recommendation 12 reads:
The Committee [for which I was rapporteur] recommends that the capacity and frequency of existing programmes operated with the support of Enterprise Ireland to assist women entrepreneurs (such as Female Founders and Female High Fliers Programme) become more proficient in technology should be enhanced substantially so as to give much more women the opportunity to participate in them.
I commend the chief executive of Enterprise Ireland, Ms Julie Sinnamon, and Ms Jean O'Sullivan for their encouragement and drive to have more women entrepreneurs. What Enterprise Ireland has done indicates that when there are special programmes for women to become entrepreneurs with high-class products and opportunities to gain expertise, it does work. I commend the speeches made. They were fabulous and really interesting to listen to.
I welcome the Minister of State. This five-year strategy has been broadly welcomed by all stakeholders involved in research, teaching and industry. As has rightly been said, it is ambitious and without ambition progress is rarely made. As Fine Gael spokesperson on jobs, enterprise and innovation, I warmly welcome any policy that seeks to advance Ireland as an innovation hub. If this strategy is handled in the same way as the Action Plan for Jobs, I have no doubt it will bear fruit and that we will see its success across the country.
As Science Foundation Ireland has indicated, this innovation plan is a key element of the Government's overall jobs strategy, aimed at building a new economy based on exports and enterprise and delivering full employment on a sustainable basis. The strategy is aimed at building on the significant successes delivered by the Government's science strategy in the past decade, which has seen Ireland dramatically improve its performance globally in this area. The next phase of the strategy is aimed at building on existing infrastructure and achieving ambitious private-public collaborations.
A key ambition of the strategy is to increase total investment in research and development in Ireland, led by the private sector, to 2.5% of GNP. On current official projections, this means that more than €5 billion will be invested per year in research and development by the private and public sectors by 2020. This will represent almost a doubling of current levels of investment.
Among the other ambitious targets the Minister of State mentioned are: the number of research personnel in enterprise to increase by 60% to 40,000; research masters and PhD enrolments will be increased by 30% to 2,250; private investment in research and development performed in the public research system will be doubled; there will be a 40% increase in the share of PhD researchers transferring from SFI research teams to industry; Ireland's participation in international research organisations will be expanded; the network of centres will be further developed, building critical mass and addressing enterprise needs; a successor to the programme for research in third level institutions will be rolled out to include investment in the creation of new facilities, the maintenance and upgrading of existing facilities and equipment and ensure their full utilisation; and funding of €1.25 billion under the EU framework programme Horizon 2020 will be drawn down. These are just a few of the overall ambitious targets set and are most welcome.
I have a few queries about the strategy that I wish to bring to the Minister of State's attention. Perhaps he might keep them in mind as the strategy is reviewed on an ongoing basis. The first issue is Irish patent activity. According to the State's own figures, there was a rise in patenting activity until 2006, after which it hit a plateau. Our patenting rate seems to be lower than in those countries with which we find ourselves in competition. Perhaps the Minister of State might investigate ways by which our levels of patenting could be increased. The strategy is a little silent on the issue which could be constructively pursued.
This is more of a general comment rather than any criticism. Our ranking as an innovation hub largely depends on foreign multinationals rather than indigenous companies. As an example, on the 2014 EU industrial research and development investment scoreboard ranking of the top 1,000 EU companies, the Irish list shows that Seagate was ranked 59 and spent €889 million, while Accenture spent €518.5 million. Of the big indigenous Irish groups, the Kerry Group was ranked 154 with a spend of €158.2 million, while Glanbia was ranked 590 with a small spend of €17.7 million. There is a significant gap between the spend by foreign multinationals and that of domestic groups. While Ireland is viewed very positively by foreign multinationals, which is good, I would like to see greater emphasis on increasing the prominence of indigenous groups as we roll out the strategy.
I commend the Minister of State and his departmental officials for their excellent work on job creation since the Government came to power. We are really seeing the benefits of it now and it is important that that work should continue. The strategy is an essential part of it.
I welcome the Minister of State. We had the experience of working together when he was Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I thank the Leader for finding time for this debate.
In discussing Innovation 2020 I welcome the Government's investment in this area. It is vital we make that investment to ensure we remain competitive. I cannot fail to mention that while the Government calls for businesses and individuals to innovate, when people speak about certain types of innovation and science, it backs away. Some of the controversial issues include nuclear power, genetically modified organisms and hydraulic fracturing or fracking. These may be at the cutting edge of innovation and may cut emissions or create jobs, but they are just too politically controversial and we do not seem to go there.
As Senator Hildegarde Naughton said, it is clear that we are not doing very well when it comes to patenting products. I hope the report can spur on some activity in this area. The programme calls for a strengthening of intellectual property awareness and I am interested in the form that could take. Given that the issue of patents is quite complicated, I wonder if local enterprise offices have the capacity to advise people. Does the Minister of State have any concrete measure in mind to help SMEs in this area?
We should make it easier to set up businesses in order to support entrepreneurship. One simple way to support and foster more entrepreneurship is to make it easier to set up a business. I have raised this issue so many times that people will think I have a particular hang up about it and I do. It is far too lengthy a process and costly to set up a new business in this country. For example, to start a business in Ireland takes four procedures and six days and costs €130. However, in New Zealand which ranks as the best in the world in starting a business it takes just one procedure and half a day and costs less than €100. That is very quick and it is a totally online procedure. We should follow New Zealand's example and allow for the procedure to start a business to be undertaken completely online, which involves a very low cost and takes a very short time. Making it quick and simple may help to nudge people towards starting their own business. The Government should aim at having one online procedure lasting a maximum of a couple of hours and costing a maximum of, let us say, €50 to set up a business in Ireland. If we could do this, we would be getting somewhere.
I refer to the lack of access to credit for SMEs. The programme makes no mention of crowdfunding.I am a great believer in crowdfunding, which is developing quickly, but is not mentioned in this report. The report mentions the need to ensure the availability of a comprehensive and competitive range of financial services to meet the needs of innovative enterprises. However, it totally fails to mention crowdfunding, which is a system that is growing hourly and is perhaps the most innovative way for a business to gain access to credit. Can the Minister of State give any reason for the omission of crowdfunding from the report?
I would like to see it made easier for SMEs to access research and development credit. The report states there should be more enterprises engaged in research and development investment, including enterprises in the locally traded sectors, to drive productivity performance. However, how are we to get these enterprises, particularly SMEs, to invest in research and development?
I would like to address two other areas but I am aware it will not be possible to cover them fully because of time constraints. The report states agrifood research is to be informed by consumer insights and to improve translation of research input into commercial products on the market. I hope these consumer insights do not only include national insights. I believe we have a hang-up in that regard and that we should be looking at international insights. For example, Fonterra, a New Zealand dairy co-operative is developing dairy products specifically to cater for the tastes of the Chinese consumer. I believe the fragmentation of our dairy industry is hindering us. We also have a lot more to do in terms of food innovation. It should not just be about selling Irish food products abroad. We are doing a very good job in that area but not enough. For instance, we should be developing country specific products and tailoring to them to the specific market. Of course, this would mean selling a slightly different taste in cheddar to the Chinese market, taking on board its taste. It is extremely important to listen to the consumer in the different markets. We can do something in this area.
I was interested to read in the report the request for Departments to use research to inform evidence-based policy and regulation. This is important. Perhaps staff in some Departments do not have the capacity to undertake research on policy, such as taxation which has an impact on taxpayers, but one of my main concerns relates to when the Government increases things such as the minimum wage by a nice round figure rather than basing the increase on more detailed economic research. The "latter curve" is a well known economic principle. It shows that sometimes when a government puts too much tax on a product, the tax revenue goes off a cliff. We have seen plenty of examples of that. Governments sometimes assume that if they increases the tax on something, they will automatically get extra money. However, increasing a tax often produces the opposite result and sometimes a reduction in tax produces a greater return. This message must be sold to the Department of Finance as I do not believe that principle is fully understood.
It was good to have this debate and to hear what the Minister of State had to say, despite the restrictions on time. I believe his heart is in the right place and while he may get a bigger job in the next Government, I hope he will continue with the same enthusiasm he has shown in the past. I believe that with that enthusiasm, he will be able to make the necessary changes.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and the opportunity to debate Innovation 2020. I wish to echo Senator Quinn's words about the Minister of State's enthusiasm for and commitment to this, which is greatly appreciated. I also wish to acknowledge that Innovation 2020, Ireland's new strategy for research and development in science and technology, represents an enormous achievement, a coming together and culmination of a great deal of consultation. The Minister of State noted the significant progress we have made in innovation, for example, the fact we host nine out of the top ten global ICT companies, nine out of the top ten global pharmaceutical companies and 17 out of the top 25 global medical devices companies. These are significant achievements for a country which started from a low base in terms of investment in research and third level education.
I want to address a number of points relevant to the development of innovation and research, in particular at third level. However, as we consider the results of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition in the RDS, I would like to acknowledge the importance of first and second levels in the context of innovation and research in this area, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM subjects. As a parent of children in primary school, I have a particular interest in this. It seems to me we are not doing enough at primary level to foster the right sort of enthusiasm among primary school children. Others have mentioned it already but it is vital enthusiasm is fostered in children at primary level. For example, in the history area, there is huge innovation going on around the 2016 centenary celebrations and we see innovative and imaginative projects that are capturing children's imagination. However, we do not see the same sort of innovation in regard to the development of science education at primary level. The position is better at secondary level and the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition plays a significant part in that. However, we need to do more at primary level.
I mention this in light of the reports of the high dropout rates in STEM subjects at third level highlighted by the HEA this week. Some of the figures have been contested but we undoubtedly need to ensure higher retention rates in STEM subjects. This has been a long-standing concern in the IT and university sectors. On the issue of the STEM subjects at third level, Senator White has spoken about the need for greater recognition for gender balance in this area. It is a concern that we continue to see a disproportionately lower number of girls entering engineering, computer science and maths based courses. I commend the women in science and engineering research, WISER, initiative or project in Trinity College, which has done significant work in trying to foster more enthusiasm and a higher take-up rate among girls in these subjects. Part of this involves generating knowledge about female role models in science research.
While we are focusing on science and STEM research, as a humanities researcher I would like to make a pitch to ensure we do not overly focus on the STEM subjects at the expense of humanities research. Ireland has a great deal of strength in this area also. The Minister has spoken about Horizon 2020 and EU funding but we must also ensure that our researchers are facilitated and supported in applying for EU funding in the humanities and social sciences as well as in the STEM area on which we are focusing much of our resources.
To reflect a view held among third level, in particular among university researchers, we need to ensure there is a balance between research which is linked to industry or applied research and research which is more in the line of frontier research or "blue sky thinking" ideas based research. We must recognise that a great deal of time is often needed to develop ideas from their very abstract stage to the applied stage. William Campbell, whom we claim as our new Irish Nobel prize winner in science, made this point very eloquently. We need to ensure we have that balance.
I welcome the target to grow our total research and development budget to 2.5% of GNP by 2020. However, I would plead on behalf of the university system, which has been underfunded in this regard. There has been a significant cut in budgets over the past decade despite an increase in student numbers and this has contributed to a fall in rankings which has a knock-on effect in terms of attracting not only students, but researchers and academics. I welcome the focus on the need to increase the number of research personnel to 40,000 in enterprise and to increase the number of enrolments in MA and PhD programmes to 2,250 by 2020. This is welcome but we need to ensure adequate supports are put in place at third level to provide for the increased focus on PhD research.
I welcome the successor to the PRTLI and the renewed investment generally in research infrastructure. I also welcome the challenge-centric approach, provided it does not impact negatively on the research opportunities for principal investigators or individual researchers which currently may be too small a percentage of the overall funding portfolio.
I am conscious that we are time-limited in this debate but I wish to welcome the launch by the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills of the Pathways to Work programme, which sets out 86 actions to increase the numbers in work to 2.2 million by 2020. This is very much linked with Innovation 2020 in terms of seeking to ensure we have increased numbers at work.This sort of target is ambitious but, as I said earlier, it is achievable given that under this Government, unemployment has dropped from more than 15% to a current rate of 8.8%. It is still too high. Clearly, the actions and commitments made in Innovation 2020 will have a large part to play in reducing unemployment further and ensuring we have high quality, skilled jobs based on investment in research and development, which is so critical to growing our economy and society.
I will probably not need eight minutes. I thank the Minister of State for coming in to debate this excellent subject, which focuses on the future of our country and on our youth. Picking up on Senator White's very good speech earlier, I bring the Minister of State's attention to the New York Academy of Sciences, which has announced the global STEM alliance. This alliance brings world-class curricula and mentoring to students of all ages, anywhere, to fulfil the unmet needs of nations needing highly skilled workers in science, technology, engineering and maths. The initiative aims to meet a particularly critical need to feed economic development by creating a STEM-literate population and inspiring children around the world to pursue STEM interests and careers. In April 2014, I brought this to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills, who very kindly responded. Although the Department recognised the need to provide ready access to STEM career role models and pathways, it said that at the moment, the Government had no plans to interact internationally but was incorporating STEM for students in primary and post-primary schools. I bring this innovation to the attention of the Minister of State this evening and will e-mail him the information.
If we were to pretend we were young and I said Senator White could join this alliance, she would be very excited. The members of the alliance can interact and discuss science, technology and maths with counterparts in participating cities, including cities in the United States, Spain, Australia, Malaysia, the UK, Poland, Serbia, Kuwait, Qatar, China, India, Nigeria, Mali and so on, but Ireland has not joined. Students can participate in mentoring relationships with the most brilliant early-career scientists around the world. Each country that joins the global STEM alliance will bring its best and brightest into this elite network of mentors, providing advice, career guidance and STEM inspiration. They can elect to take cutting-edge science courses from leading educational organisations, either online or through scholarships, and learn what a day in the life of a scientist is like for those who work for major STEM companies like ExxonMobil, Rockwell, Lockheed, Cisco, Infosys and Goldman Sachs. They can get advice on entrepreneurship and innovation and build career resumé points and a network of global elite science peers for life.
Through the wonderful world of the web, the social media hub that is being built among this STEM global network is something that our young people should join. I thought I would bring that to the attention of the House this evening as a little bit of information. If Senator White and I were a couple of years younger, we would join this alliance.
I wish to take up Senator Quinn's point on the food issue and also the excellent, thought-provoking documentary on sugar. If the Minister of State has not seen it, he should watch it. I know he is not Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine but he could be one of these days. I am a sort of a wannabe nutritionist and have been since 1990. I love nutrition and am very interested in nutritional science. I was perplexed and in awe of this documentary which was a little bit frightening. However, to criticise it, it did not give Irish people solutions for how to deal with the issues.
I am involved in the food industry. Sugar is everywhere. It is in tomato ketchup, baked beans and soup. I am not talking about having a cup of coffee or a piece of cake. This debate is not about food. All I will say is we are the third biggest users of sugar in the world. By 2030, we are going to be the biggest in the world. Our children are literally alcoholics, suffering from liver disease from eating sugar.
Senator White is smiling at me because we are in the chocolate business. I am not talking about a little bit of chocolate or a little biscuit. I am talking about what is hidden everywhere, in breakfast cereals or things I did not know, such as apple juice and orange juice. We are all in such a rush and everyone is stressed, so everything is hurried and, unknowingly, we are now consuming sugar. Children are suffering from liver disease. Tooth decay is at an all-time high because of sugar. It is being proved that anxiety and depression are being caused by over-eating of sugar.
Ireland is just so far ahead in agriculture, food and exports. We are good innovators in the food sector. We have the Kerry Group with its centre of excellence in research and development in Naas. The Minister of State must push us hard and use the EU to innovate quickly in the free-from market in order to help public health. It used to be fat but sugar is the latest thing. Senator White and I will be looking at lower-sugar chocolate.
There is so much happening out there. The world is changing so fast. Let us not be Paddy last on this one. There are some amazing companies in Ireland today. It is not just in STEM, although it all plugs in together.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank the Leader for extending the time. I complimented the Minister of State earlier on the Order of Business on being in Birr yesterday to launch the radio telescope. The family there has been at the centre of science in Ireland for many hundreds of years. It was a great endorsement by the Government.
Action No. 5.10 of Innovation 2020 is to "bring forward legislative proposals to implement reforms recommended by the Copyright Review Committee aimed specifically at exploring greater use of certain copyright exceptions to promote innovation." I have a present for the Minister of State. We did that in the Copyright and Related Rights (Innovation) (Amendment) Bill 2015. We got the people associated with that review to write an explanatory memorandum and a Bill and I ask that it be brought forward in the time that is remaining. We were glad to make that contribution as we thought it was important. The Bill is on the Order Paper. I am sure the Leader will give the Minister of State the details. It is offered in that positive spirit.
We have a problem with STEM, particularly in primary schools, as previous Senators have said. It was a serious mistake for the two highest ranked universities in Ireland, TCD and UCD, to virtually opt out of teacher training. My model is that the maths department in a university should be teaching maths to teachers of maths. Separating it into separate teacher training colleges under that cluster arrangement was wrong. The teaching of maths to teachers of maths is much more important than teaching maths to people who will become stockbrokers or accountants.
We should not have done that. Mathematicians and mathematics departments in Ireland have a duty to explain their subjects to young people. Writing articles in learned journals and so on is one thing but we need the supply of STEM people. When we are all gone and the articles are on dusty shelves in libraries, it will be time for the next generation of maths teachers, economics teachers and so on.
We have been neglecting undergraduates. According to the figures given by Mr. Boland of the Higher Education Authority to the Royal Irish Academy seminar on these issues, we have reduced expenditure per student in Irish universities from €11,500 down to €9,000 since 2006. There is no point in putting cliches in reports about how much Ireland cherishes higher education. We are not doing that, nor are we dealing with the number of unqualified maths teachers at second level or the inadequacies of teaching maths at primary level. The surveys show that most people teaching maths at primary level feel inadequate and nervous about the subject, although they are superbly confident in subjects like English and history. We have to deal with those problems.
Innovation 2020 also states that public sector policy making should be informed by research. I proposed an amendment to the climate change Bill.It provided for consultation with learned bodies such as the Royal Irish Academy, the environmental science departments of universities, the Royal Dublin Society and so forth, but it encountered into resistance. The Government is not doing research. The legislation relating to alcohol was debated in this House but hardly any research was carried out in respect of what would happen if the price was changed. The publican and the off-licence owner would be made richer but no research was done on whether what was proposed would change consumption levels or whether, if the latter occurred, there would be a cost to the Exchequer. The same applies to the Legal Services Regulation Act. No research was done on the cost of the conveyancing monopoly or the fact that one cannot access a barrister without a solicitor. We need much better research on legislation coming before the House.
The quality of the education system is vital. We need to deliver it as part of our public services. It is stated that we intend to revolutionise innovation in the health service. Where is the evidence for this ? We cannot even put in place a booking system for people in accident and emergency departments. Let us stop claiming credit for things we are not doing but let us go ahead and do them and promote that level of innovation. There is a concern that we have chosen priority areas, that original thought and blue-sky, or frontier, thinking is not encouraged and that a person will lose out if he or she is not working in one of the chosen areas. There is the tilting within universities in respect of research at the expense of lecturing to undergraduates, which will give rise to huge costs. To quote the jargon, undergraduate education has to be teaching-centric. Those who go in and take on 400 people - 600 in some cases - in a lecture hall should not be bypassed because someone wrote an article in a journal that hardly anyone reads or received a large grant for writing that article. We have taken our eye off the ball in preparing the next generation of people in the humanities, arts and social sciences.
The excluded Departments in the research exercise referred to at the end of the Innovation 2020 document include the Departments of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht - about which the Royal Irish Academy is extremely concerned - Transport, Tourism and Sport and Social Protection. Why can we not research new ways to tackle poverty? I applaud what the Minister of State is doing and the commercial emphasis it involves but many Departments did not turn up when he was promoting - with an enthusiasm that has been commended - more interest in innovation and research. There is a need for a vast amount of research on how the Department of Children and Youth Affairs should contribute to the development of children as citizens. Extending the remit of the Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation much more widely should be considered. This strategy is going in the right direction. The Minister of State mentioned 40,000 researchers and I commend him in that regard.
On page 39 of the strategy, reference is made to "scoring applicants who have successful industry linkages but lower numbers of publications/citations than candidates with a purely academic record". That is a silly use of language. We have to compete at the highest level possible, that is, with the Harvards, Yales and so on. Making a dismissive remark about people with a purely academic record seems to me to be rather strange. The other strange emphasis in the strategy, which, in a sense, does down Ireland, is the four countries we have chosen as our exemplars and comparators. Denmark, Finland, and Israel are to be compared with Ireland. Ireland has a substantially higher GDP per head than Denmark and Finland and has performed massively better in economic terms than Israel. We have a GDP per head of €51,000; Israel has a GDP per head of $36,000. I wonder from where those strange models came.
As the banking inquiry comes to an end, there is a need for serious consideration of what was called contrarian research. Professor Morgan Kelly compiled 40 papers on collapses and bank busts and so on but was ignored by the establishment, namely, the Government and the Central Bank. We have to get away from that type of approach and have more original thinking. We need more tolerance for people whose views diverge from what could be a very rigid, almost Stalinist kind of system. Some of the people left out of scientific research do feel rather cross when their subjects are downgraded. In particular, we have to start investing money into mathematics teacher training and undergraduates. Expenditure on undergraduates has decreased by €2,500 each, from €11,500 to €9,000. We cannot say we are investing in it and that it is the finest education system in the world yet continue to deny it funds.
I know we have had an appalling problem bailing out banks and so on and that is the context. No one did this deliberately. However, we need to develop this for the future. Senator Bacik mentioned Professor William C. Campbell, the Nobel Prize winner, who paid special tribute to his mentor at TCD. If that is not going to happen any more, we will not see that many more Nobel prizes and we will not see graduates performing at the level we would wish. The number of dropouts also has to be taken seriously. Some courses have a dropout rate of 80%. I commend the people who ran the courses-----
-----and I am sure there were pressures to give everyone a PhD at birth, so to speak, but they did not. They held the standards but we are not meeting the standards. This will have to by addressed by whoever holds the Minister of State's post in the future. I hope, with the best of good wishes, that the Minister of State will either retain his current position or obtain a higher-rated one. However, there are serious problems in this area that remain to be tackled. Innovation 2020 is open on that. It is an iterative process; it requires for more inputs from time to time.
We have made very serious adjustments downwards in funding of very important areas. The Minister of State has held the line on this one but it cannot continue unless we tackle the problems that exist.
I will try to get through all the questions. I thank the Senators for their support for and recognition of the importance of Innovation 2020 and the science strategy. This House certainly understands the importance of investing in research and development. This is taxpayers' money and we have a duty to invest it properly. We have had this discussion before about following the money and tracking it to ensure we are getting a return on it. We are trying to do that. We are trying to put in place the procedures and the metrics to measure the return to which I refer.
I say it often to the various lecturers across all disciplines. I ask them to help us track their students so that we can see where they are going. These students are having major influence when they leave Trinity College Dublin or other universities, be it UCD or DCU. They are heading out into industry and they have an influence across many areas in society. Consider William C. Campbell, who won the Nobel Prize. He is an Irish person abroad. We want to have someone from here, funded by Ireland through the taxpayer, to do likewise.
Part of measuring the return on taxpayers' money is to follow our people to see where they are and what they are doing. As well as all the other methods of measuring spin-outs, companies and jobs, we need to track these people. This will help us win more money. Much of what we are trying to do with the science strategy involves constructing a roadmap in order to develop and make a business case for increased investment of taxpayers' money and private investment. Advocating STEM subjects and encouraging young people to take them up, which is where Senator White started, is so important.
I have asked the research community and all those who are doing great work about this. I have visited all the different facilities around the country and the potential is there but what is being developed behind the scenes and is coming through in all the research centres needs to be talked about more. We need to show off. Researchers are probably quiet by nature. We need them to talk more about what they are doing and to get young people interested in them in order that they might follow their stories. It goes back again to parents and grandparents who are making decisions for students-----
Correct. However, they do not know what is out there. They are not really aware, but that is our job. We all need to encourage awareness, be it through the science strategy or the work with SFI and the discover science programmes. We need to get the message out there and open their minds to it. That is what we are trying to do here. There is a report on the desk of the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, from Professor Brian MacCraith from DCU about STEM education at primary level and second level. There are many interesting recommendations in the report. I hope we can progress it and get it through the system in the next couple of weeks. We need to be going into second level schools and getting the message across. We have to do it.
Enterprise Ireland produced figures recently which show that the level of female participation in entrepreneurship has gone way up. We are also trying to encourage this. I am sorry but I have not read the report to which Senator White referred. However, I certainly will obtain a copy of it now. I like some of the material quoted from it. We will try to do that because it is important that we would do it. We have actions in this strategy to try to encourage people's participation. I would know it myself given my experience over the past six or seven months. There was a lot more of a gender balance at many of the awards I was at through SFI and in the different grants announced. In some cases a lot more females were leading the charge.
The issue concerns career development and keeping them in the system. Certainly at an earlier stage, for various reasons which we know, females drop out and do not get back in. We will try to fix that. SFI are targeting it, in particular, with new supports being introduced. Through STEM subjects in schools, we need to get them more involved in the first instance. However, one would be surprised at the levels of participation. I was at the BT Young Scientist and Technology exhibition last week in the RDS. I would say there were a lot more females present than males, but we need to keep them in the system and ensure they pick those subjects at third level and continue with them thereafter in industry as well. This is a major area for us.If we have more time I will answer some of the questions, if that is allowed. If not, I can come back to them later.
A study on the interest in STEM was done by Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, recently, Science in Ireland Barometer, and I was surprised by the result, but it was genuine. I do not believe the results of all polls, particularly when they are about us, but this was on science and the importance of STEM. It involved talking to people in their homes, and there is an interest among the public. They do understand the importance of it. The results showed clearly that the parents value STEM; they just do not realise that it is their children who should be doing it. That is the message we are trying to get across and we must work on that. Science Week is another opportunity to open young people's minds to the benefits of the sciences and what they are doing, be it science, technology, engineering or mathematics, and their relevance to everyday life. We would not have an IPhone without science and research, and we need to get that message across.
Senator Hildegarde Naughton is correct about the Action Plan for Jobs process. We now know that process works. It brought about a whole of government approach to creating jobs. It has gone way beyond its targets. We are using the same approach with the science strategy. There are more than 90 actions in this and they are assigned to different people. We will track this implementation body to ensure those actions are carried out. There are ambitions in this strategy but we will not achieve those unless we follow the same logic as An Action Plan for Jobs because it does work. It has been proven to work, so that is what we are trying to do.
There is flexibility built into this plan to allow for change and new ideas as we go along. It is a five-year plan. Some would say we could do with a ten-year science strategy. We could but things move so fast it would be pointless having such a plan. That is the reason it is a five-year strategy but with flexibility to allow for change as we proceed.
The patenting activity is dealt with in the strategy, and some actions are proposed, but also along with Enterprise 2025 in terms of dealing with the low numbers of patents. We want to encourage more and get back to the previously high levels. There will be a referendum on patenting some time this year or next year, which will start the conversation around that issue and encourage more people to do that.
Regarding the difference in the research and development spend between indigenous and foreign-owned companies, through our research centres we are getting them involved. Over 1,000 small and medium enterprises, SMEs, are involved in the research agenda and, likewise, we are trying to encourage more multinationals to become involved also. There is a higher volume of SMEs involved in it, although not to the same level. The idea behind this science strategy and the different supports is to encourage more companies to get involved in the public system and work together because everyone gains that way and gets the best value for their money. That is in the actions in Innovation 2020.
This is about job creation; that is what we are trying to do. The Senator mentioned this Government's success in job creation but much of that is the private sector creating jobs with Government, through our Departments and agencies, supporting and facilitating that, and getting out of the way sometimes, and putting an environment in place that encourages enterprise-driven and sustainable jobs. That is the duty of all of us here, and I know the committee, of which Senator White is a member, does good work in trying to put forward new policies, which is something we must keep an eye on also.
Senator Quinn raised a number of issues about patents which we dealt with. We are trying to deal with that throughout the strategy. He spoke about access to credit and crowdfunding. I am a big fan of crowdfunding. We had a discussion on that in the committee when I was a member. It is not for this science strategy to deal with the different routes to access finance. That is for Enterprise 2025 to do. All those strategies work together but each individual type of funding is not for a science strategy but crowdfunding is an innovative way to do it. It is something I would encourage and of which I would be supportive.
Agrifood innovation is essential. We talk about research-based decision making. What we are saying in this science strategy is that we want our public agencies and Departments to carry out much more research to increase their own spend on research but to use it.
Senator Quinn mentioned fracking and other areas of energy. Fracking is a prime example in this regard. We have not even heard from the scientists whether Ireland is the right place to do it. The start of any conversation should be to ask our researchers and the science community about the story for Ireland, and whether it is right or wrong, and then have a discussion thereafter on whether we want it, but we must start with the science and the evidence. That is why we want to encourage much more of that. If we talk to our colleagues in the science agencies in Denmark, whom Senator Barrett mentioned, we see there is more of an acceptance in some countries of science-based evidence and research evidence. It does not always happen here but that is the duty of politicians. When we have science-based evidence before us we should use it and make decisions based on it. However, we must carry out the research in the first place, and that is what we are trying to do. I hope I have not missed other issues raised by Senator Quinn.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien raised the issue of the documentary, which I have not seen, on the danger of hidden sugars people do not know about. That was the point the Senator was making. If people choose to eat chocolate they know it contains sugar, and in the right quantities that is fine. It is the hidden sugars in every other product that they do not know about. Senator O'Brien is right that there is a potential for Ireland in this regard. We spoke about research bringing societal and economic benefits, and through our food production we can make inroads in that regard. We will be benefiting society but there will be an opportunity to create jobs also because it is an issue that does not just affect Ireland. We are one of the leading food producing innovators so that is exactly what we should be doing.
Senator O'Brien also referred ti the New York Academy of Sciences Global STEM Alliance. I am very interested to hear about it. It is not something that has crossed my desk but I will check it out. I thank her for highlighting the information because that is what we are trying to do, namely, make it more interesting. Senator White spoke about making the education system more interesting for people to take up STEM subjects. That is exactly what is happening in junior cycle reform. We are trying to make the education system more interesting for young people who have access to all the information in the world. Our duty, as educators, is to make that more interesting and to help them collate that information and use it to do projects, but they are able to get the information. Our duty is to reform our system as we go along.
On the humanities and social sciences, most people will see from the commentary around this science strategy that there is an acceptance that we will try to rebalance it to make sure there are routes to funding for all disciplines, and that all those disciplines are encouraged to recognise the importance of that. There is no better way to do that than in the talent agenda. If we do not fund all disciplines we will not have the people we need coming through the system to operate in the public research system and into industry also. New initiatives have been set up to enable and encourage that. I have met many people from the different disciplines and I believe we have got the balance right in the strategy. It is important that we get a return on our money in terms of jobs and so on but we must make sure the balance is right. That is why the frontier research funding mechanism is included, which the Irish Research Council will drive and publish. That relates to the opportunity and access to funding.
Senator Barrett mentioned challenge-based funding and the opportunity for all disciplines to be part of that and to set challenges. We will try to track the money through the system. We are very clear that there is a balance in this strategy and that it deals with that. In terms of blue skies or frontier research, we can call it what we like. It is allowed for in this strategy. What we announced yesterday in Birr, County Offaly, is proof of the pudding. I cannot be any clearer than that. Some years ago Professor Peter Gallagher might have said he could not get funding for that but he understood working with the system and engaging with SFI. He won an award yesterday which will have a major impact across Europe as well. We are trying to encourage and to prove that if a project reaches a bar of excellence, we can get funding for it. That is the bottom line. It is setting that bar high on excellence. I am probably-----
I have a few items that I will come back to individually.
The Senator asked the reason we look at Denmark, Sweden and Israel. It is because they are comparative countries. They are investing heavily in research and development and they are driving innovation. They are countries with which we are competing and we have to match them and be ahead of them. They are already well on the road to being global innovation leaders. That is where we want to position Ireland. We use some of those countries because the population size is similar to ours, and to show where we should be heading because if we do not get there we will be left behind.