Written answers

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Research and Development

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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58. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will establish a science and technology policy fellowship within the civil service to provide opportunities to scientists and engineers to learn first-hand about policymaking and contribute their knowledge and analytical skills in policy development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49174/21]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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My department is currently developing a new National Research and Innovation Strategy which is expected to be completed later this year. We acknowledge the opportunity to recognise the R&I system as a resource to provide evidence-based research to address key national policy questions. This is an issue which has gained momentum in the last number of years and consideration needs to be given to how this could be best articulated and supported through the national strategy.

Research is a strategic national asset. The engaged research–policy dialogue is an important agenda for Ireland as it seeks to utilise all of the resources available to it to meet current and future challenges to the best of its ability. This is also an area where, if we can get it right, Ireland can be a leader within the EU and beyond.

There are specific programmes in place which support this agenda. As Ireland’s national science and engineering funding agency with in depth knowledge of the capabilities available in our (publicly-funded) research institutions, Science Foundation Ireland is developing a portfolio of programmes that aim to broker the collaboration between the academic research community and government departments, agencies and local councils, to contribute to solving challenges of strategic national importance by providing researchers with support to work hand-in-hand with policy and decision makers.

A key goal for SFI is to promote and strengthen the engagement between public service bodies and science and engineering researchers based in Ireland, to promote effective collaboration in the pursuit of solutions to pressing global and national challenges. Science has a critical role to play in tackling the complex global problems we as a society are facing including, but not limited to, pandemic preparedness, climate change, energy supply, food sustainability, environmental pollution, increased prevalence of mental health, challenges facing an ageing population, housing shortages and equality and inclusion.

The SFI Public Service Fellowship, which was launched in 2019, is a pilot initiative which offers researchers a unique opportunity to be temporarily seconded to Government departments, agencies and the Library and Research Service of the Oireachtas, to work on specific projects where they can add value, resulting in mutually beneficial outcomes. The Fellowships awarded will foster innovation within the Public Sector by supporting the development and implementation of data-driven and evidence-based approaches.

A total of 12 Public Service Fellowships were awarded with placements in a number of hosts: Houses of the Oireachtas Library and Research Services (6 Fellows), the Department of Children, Disability, Equality and Integration (1 Fellow), Food Safety Authority of Ireland (2 Fellows), The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (2 Fellows) and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (1 Fellow). Of the 12 Fellowships 7 are due to end their placement in 2021. The remaining Fellows will carry out their placements until 2023.

It has become very clear the essential input, expertise and service that the academic research community can provide to bolster colleagues in Government Departments and agencies.

Equally, placements within Government Departments and Agencies will expose academic researchers to the mechanics of public service and policy making which will contribute greatly to their career development. The secondment model will also provide an opportunity for further dissemination of knowledge and learnings to a broader academic cohort on return of the Fellow to their academic institution. Thus, the SFI Public Service Fellowship pilot programme will help in increasing the linkages between the research and civil service systems.


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