Re­al­ity check for Ire­land to meet in­no­va­tion tar­gets

Irish Examiner - - Business - John Whe­lan

The best an­ti­dote to the cur­rent world trade tur­moil is in­no­va­tion, the cre­ation of prod­ucts and ser­vices that make life bet­ter — whether it’s but­ter, vac­cines, or text mes­sag­ing. Ev­ery coun­try wants to fos­ter a cul­ture of in­no­va­tion, but it’s not easy to do.

Ire­land has been try­ing hard, but as shown in the lat­est re­lease from the EU’s sta­tis­tics of­fice, the re­sults are patchy. Just be­fore the re­ces­sion, Ire­land was ranked 12th most in­ten­sive coun­try in the EU for re­search and de­vel­op­ment (R&D). We have since fallen to 18th. After the eco­nomic cri­sis, pub­lic in­vest­ment in R&D has been slow to re­cover. Of­fi­cials in the Depart­ment of Busi­ness, En­ter­prise, and In­no­va­tion point to the lack of funds be­cause of the re­ces­sion. Hence R&D ex­pen­di­ture by gov­ern­ments in the years fol­low­ing the re­ces­sion fell from the peak of €930m to re­ceiv­ing a bud­get al­lo­ca­tion of €751m in 2018.

The busi­ness en­ter­prise sec­tor, which has con­tin­ued in the decade to in­crease in­vest­ment in re­search and in de­vel­op­ing new prod­ucts and ser­vices for global mar­kets has man­aged to keep Ire­land’s po­si­tion look­ing rel­a­tively healthy.

When you add in the busi­ness R&D spend to that of the State’s, the pic­ture looks some­what more en­cour­ag­ing: It has risen from €2.4bn in 2007 to €3.1bn in 2017. How­ever, the av­er­age spend in the EU 28 coun­tries rose by 38%, while that of Ire­land’s, de­spite the ex­tra ef­fort of the busi­ness com­mu­nity, rose only 25%.

The Gov­ern­ment be­lieves it can still meet the EU In­no­va­tion 2020 tar­gets which also en­com­pass Ire­land’s Strat­egy for re­search and de­vel­op­ment, sci­ence tech­nol­ogy for the pe­riod 2016-2020. The vi­sion is for Ire­land to be a “global in­no­va­tion leader”, driv­ing a strong sus­tain­able econ­omy and a bet­ter so­ci­ety.

The Depart­ment of En­ter­prise ac­cepts that reach­ing the tar­gets by De­cem­ber 2020 will be very chal­leng­ing. Part of its re­sponse has been to ap­point an ex­ter­nal con­sul­tancy to carry out a mid-term eval­u­a­tion of the strat­egy so that “rel­e­vant ad­just­ments can be made in a timely man­ner to en­sure suc­cess­ful de­liv­ery on the vi­sion and ob­jec­tives”.

The con­sul­tancy con­tract has been is­sued in re­cent weeks, with a brief to re­view the strat­egy’s vi­sion and the ob­jec­tive of reach­ing the tar­get of 2.5% of GNP re­search in­ten­sity — Ire­land’s com­mit­ment un­der the Europe 2020 plan. We are cur­rently less than half-way there. Reach­ing the tar­get in less than 24 months is highly as­pi­ra­tional.

There are some Europe 2020 tar­gets that will be met. The tar­get of dou­bling of pri­vate fund­ing of R&D in higher ed­u­ca­tion is likely to be achieved, ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment, with pri­vate fund­ing in­creas­ing from €31.2m to €48m. Big phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and com­puter com­pa­nies are lead­ing the way with uni­ver­si­ties here.

Bell Labs has re­la­tion­ships with a num­ber of insti and tu­tions in­clud­ing Trin­ity Col­lege, Dublin City Univer­sity, Univer­sity Col­lege Dublin, and the Univer­sity of Lim­er­ick. It came to Ire­land a decade ago as one of the State’s first ma­jor R&D co-in­vest­ments.

From Fe­bru­ary 2014 to Au­gust 2018, re­searchers in Ire­land se­cured €577m in com­pet­i­tive fund­ing un­der Hori­zon 2020 — the Euro­pean Frame­work Pro­gramme for Re­search and In­no­va­tion — which is well ahead of the tar­get for the pe­riod. Busi­ness is likely to ben­e­fit but sup­ports to the sec­tor must be crit­i­cally re­viewed.

Two ac­tions in par­tic­u­lar need to be tai­lored: Ex­ist­ing R&D sup­ports and the al­lo­ca­tion of a much larger Gov­ern­ment bud­get. Both are cru­cially in­ter-re­lated and will need ma­jor surgery in the com­ing years to keep Ire­land’s busi­nesses com­pet­i­tive. Stream­lin­ing of en­ter­prise sup­ports for R&D is needed to make it eas­ier for busi­nesses to tap them.

There needs to be a re­al­ity check by the Gov­ern­ment to reach the EU’s tar­get of 2.5% of GNP; Ire­land would need to achieve an an­nual R&D spend of €7.5bn. The busi­ness sec­tor usu­ally co-funds half of the ex­pen­di­ture in any re­search project, hence the Gov­ern­ment needs to al­lo­cate €3.75bn in 2020. Five times the cur­rent spend.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.