'Room for growth' in Irish science funding - ERC

Friday 17 May 2013 18.20
Professor Donald Dingwell said Ireland is in middle of the field for applying and winning research funding
Professor Donald Dingwell said Ireland is in middle of the field for applying and winning research funding

The head of the main funding body for scientific research in Europe has said there is "room for growth" for Irish scientists applying for and securing European research grants.

Secretary General of the European Research Council Professor Donald Dingwell said Ireland remains in the middle of the field of European countries applying for and winning research funding.

Prof Dingwell also said there should always be a mixture between top down and bottom up research, better known as applied and basic, in the publicly funded science sector.

He said if a country does not have both, its intellectual capacity becomes seriously eroded over time.

He added that a blend of the two approaches is appropriate and an overemphasis of one over the other is questionable.

The Professor is in Dublin to address the Royal Irish Academy.

Last year, ERC President Helga Nowotny criticised Ireland's record for drawing down research funding, saying it could do better.

Prof Dingwell said despite its middle field status, Ireland is in a healthy position for the future.

He said Ireland could implement some measures that might help prepare and maintain research talent, so that they are better positioned to get funding in the future.

Among the measures to help Ireland's performance, Prof Dingwelll suggested young scientists thinking of applying for ERC grants could be brought together to have their proposals vetted before submission.

He also suggested that an Irish body could provide finance to help Irish researchers prepare properly for the ERC application and presentation process.

On the new seven-year EU research funding programme, Horizon 2020, Prof Dingwell said he was cautiously optimistic that there was going to be a substantial increase in the ERC's budget.

But he said the final amount was not yet known as it is still subject to negotiation.

Asked whether science funding was currently too focused on technology, engineering and mathematical areas, to the detriment of the social sciences and humanities, Prof Dingwell said qualitatively there was a need to encourage intellectual capacity across all areas of science.

He said the amount of funding needed for certain areas may differ, but to ignore any one area was to do so at your peril.

In relation to the debate about whether researchers are being required to produce a significant number of research papers for academic journals before being eligible for grant funding, Prof Dingwell said track record is valuable.

But he said young people need to be protected as they, by definition, do not have as established a track record as older scientists.

For this reason, he said, the ERC takes a liberal and broad approach to defining the quality of people writing research proposals.

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