The Irish Research Scientists Association and the universities have recently been informed of a proposal by the Higher Education Authority to cut the allocation it provides to the universities for research equipment. I understand this will take place in two phases. There will be a 50 per cent cut in the allocation for continuing capital costs and the large capital equipment grant will be eliminated. The combined effect will be an overall cut of 60 per cent. That is ironic since the report of the Science. Technology and Innovation Advisory Council and the HEA's CIRCA report on the management of research in the universities draw attention to the lack of adequate modern research equipment in the universities.
The CIRCA report states that such neglect is compromising the colleges' ability to have adequately prepared graduates. The Minister will agree that access to research equipment is essential for improved training for graduates, employment prospects, innovation links with industry, particularly the SMEs, and for improved access to a global knowledge base as producers and consumers. STIAC recommended an emergency reequipment budget to bring our national stock up to date. In the absence of this, and with the Higher Education Authority cuts, we have no hope of maintaining the quality of graduates.
The chemistry department in UCC, for example, receives £100,000 per annum. If there is a 60 per cent cut, it will only receive £40,000. It has entered into contracts, whether leasing equipment or whatever, and will not be able to meet these demands.
The Minister is aware of the recent major focus on the skills shortage in the software, electronics and pharmaceutical industries. One motivating factor for innovation and economic activity is the money invested in research and development. Germany is typical in that it recognises research and development as the most significant factor in industrial development which allows a proper response to diversification within industry. If graduates apply themselves to research and development, they can respond to market forces more quickly than before and changes in emphasis and consumer requirements can also get an immediate response. It makes no sense to spend vast amounts of money training people to meet industry requirements.
I recently debated with the Minister for Education in this House on her failure to integrate a policy between education, industry, enterprise and employment. Four years ago, the IDA stated we would by now, be short of graduates in the computing and pharmaceutical areas but there was no integration of policy. Ploughing in money for quick retraining of people is a stop-gap effort. It seems the Higher Education Authority is suggesting it will cut the capital budget for research and development which everyone accepts as vital to the well-being of future economic growth. The Minister of State should bring whatever influence he has to bear on the Higher Education Authority in the best interests of this country and graduates coming out of universities. It is important the quality of those graduates continues on the highest possible plane because they are now recognised internationally as being among the best. It is important the standard be maintained. The money needed for investment in capital equipment towards research and development is minimal in terms of the results and benefits which would accrue to the economic well-being of industry.