Ireland is developing a sound research base in the areas of biotechnology and information and communication technologies (ICT), despite institutional and funding barriers, concludes a recent report by the national policy and advisory board for enterprise, trade, science, technology and innovation (Forfás), reports Cordis.
The report focuses, in particular, on the level and quality of ICT and biotechnology research and the capabilities of the Irish research base, compared with best practices worldwide, during the period 1991 to 2000. The report is expected to help the science foundation of Ireland (SFI) assess what initiatives are needed in order to stimulate the growth of robust, competitive and sustainable scientific centres in Ireland.
In the area of biotechnology, the report found that Ireland is performing reasonably well in certain subfields of biotechnology, such as biochemistry and molecular biology: over 900 publications have been published in these two fields, over two thirds of which are in the field of biochemistry. According to the report, the citation of these papers is significantly above the world average.
However, the report notes that insufficient resources in certain modern and developing areas of biotechnology will prevent Ireland from competing at international level. It warns that the recent large injections of funding at national level must be sustained, otherwise Ireland will be unable to exploit the benefits of the research capability it aims to develop over the next four to five years.
At the same time, the report suggests that due to low levels of national funding in the past, Irish scientists have actively pursued EU and other means of financial support, which has led to greater participation in international networks.
In the field of ICT, the report also found Irish research to be internationally orientated and competitive. The expert panel were able to identify one world-class research centre and a handful of research groups that are expected to become world-class in the next five years.
The report also reveals that Irish scientists are very busy teaching and do not have sufficient resources to carry out research. According to those assessed in the report, undergraduate teaching in particular can take up 60 per cent or more of their time. The research potential is therefore diminished because the system concentrates on producing graduates, rather than addressing the reasons behind the insufficient numbers of postdoctoral students working in these scientific fields.
In light of the issues raised in the report, a number of recommendations have been made. In the short-term, the report calls for the recruitment of researchers and the development of new post doctoral positions to provide some relief from the heavy teaching loads.
In the long term, the report points to the breaking down of institutional barriers, the development of a proper career structure for professional researchers and the creation of critical mass through large multi-disciplinary collaborations. Above all, the report calls for increased and continual funding and support at national level, claiming it to be key to ensuring a strong research base both in biotechnology and ICT.