Wednesday, 19 May 2021
Department of Education and Skills
172. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the funding that has been allocated for spending on grants and supports and structural funding for blue sky research in higher education institutions in each of the years 2019 to 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26818/21]
Government investment in R&D includes funding for programmes that encompass all disciplines and all types of research. It should be noted that public funding for research is awarded according to the criteria set out in the various funding programmes operated by research funders irrespective of whether the research is basic or applied.
My Department and its agencies are significant funders of research, accounting for over half of the €869.2 million Government investment in research, development and innovation in 2019.
Public funding for blue skies research, also referred to as basic research comes from many sources, including significant funding through the block grant from my Department through the Higher Education Authority, but also through programmes operated by the Irish Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), and through the grant awarded to the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies (DIAS). Other Government departments also fund basic research through their agencies and programmes.
The most recent survey of Higher Education Expenditure on R&D, published in January 2021, showed that basic research accounted for 40% or the research spend in the higher education sector, or €350 million in 2018. Figures for 2019-2021 are not yet available as the survey is carried out biennially.
The Irish Research Council’s mandate supports excellent blue-skies research across all disciplines and career stages. A key action of Innovation 2020 was the establishment of the Council’s Laureate Awards, designed to address the lack of funding for frontier basic research across all disciplines. There has been a 22.5% increase in the Council’s budget for 2021, including increased investment for the Laureate Awards.
Providing opportunities for early-career researchers to conduct blue-skies research in our research and higher education institutions is key to the development of future research leaders. The Council makes in the region of 300 awards to exceptional postgraduate scholars and postdoctoral fellows each year, with each round of awards annually representing an investment in the region of €21 million. Additional awards are made in association with strategic funding partners, including the Environmental Protection agency. A new Laureate Awards call for early-mid career stages will open in 2021 leading to a further investment of €20 million. This will be followed by a Laureate call for senior career stage researchers in 2022. The investments made by the Council were are follows:
2021 (allocation): €47,246,000
SFI funds research that makes a real difference to the society and economy now and into the future. Undertaking scientific research is not a linear process, beginning with basic or “blue skies” research that moves along through various stages to end up as applied research. The process of discovery is non-linear, with researchers often involved in both basic and applied research as projects progress. In fact, the process is iterative and cyclical. SFI offers a range of funding schemes which support scientists and engineers to deliver both research excellence and economic and societal impact. A full list of SFI programmes and their allocations is published in the R&D Budget report each year ().
SFIs has recently published its new strategy - Shaping Our Future, which seeks to support the our objective to be an Innovation Leader in research and innovation as set out in Our Shared Future, the programme for Government.
SFI’s new strategy focuses on Delivering Today while Preparing for Tomorrow. Delivering Today enables the excellent research and top talent required to deliver tangible benefits to Ireland today. This is aligned to this Government’s commitment to ensure all of Ireland’s people benefit from public investment. The strategy also commits to Preparing for Tomorrow: providing opportunities for everyone by fostering the talent and skills that will prepare Ireland to take first mover advantage of emerging technologies for our economy and society as well as ensuring a robust research ecosystem that is embedded in and delivering for our people. There is an emphasis within the strategy on a balanced portfolio of research, from early-stage researchers and frontiers research, attracting and supporting talent, to deepening partnerships with enterprise, increased collaboration at a national and international level, and further development of the network SFI Research Centres.
DIAS is a statutory corporation established in 1940 under the Institute for Advanced Studies Act, 1940. The Institute has three constituent schools – the School of Celtic Studies, the School of Theoretical Physics and the School of Cosmic Physics, each with an independent governing board. The Institute, through the constituent schools, pursues fundamental research and trains students in advanced methods of original research. The exchequer grant to DIAS, including supplementary COVID allocations, were as follows:
2021 (allocation): €7,185,000