The Government has made a major commitment, through the substantial investment set out in the Strategy for Science, Technology & Innovation (SSTI) 2006-2013 and the National Development Plan (NDP) 2007-2013, to making the transition to a knowledge-economy. The ambition is that "Ireland by 2013 will be internationally renowned for the excellence of its research, and will be to the forefront in generating and using new knowledge for economic and social progress, within an innovation driven culture."
The Government is committed to making this vision a reality and making Ireland a key location for leading edge research and development, and a location for high quality jobs that are underpinned by knowledge and high skill levels. The targets within the Strategy, which relate to business and education sectors, include:
Increased participation in the sciences by young people;
Significant increase in the numbers of people with advanced qualifications in science and engineering;
Transformational change in the quality and quantity of research undertaken by enterprise — both directly and in cooperation with third level institutions;
Enhanced contribution of research to economic and social development across all relevant areas of public policy including agriculture, health, environment and the marine and natural resources;
Increased output of economically relevant knowledge, know how and patents from those institutions;
Increased participation in international S&T cooperation and transnational research activity;
An established international profile for Ireland as a premier location for carrying out world class R&D;
Greater coherence/exploitation of synergies in the development of S&T policy on the island of Ireland.
The First report on the implementation of the SSTI was published in December last and is available at www.entemp.ie/publications/science/2008/firstreportonSSTI. This report, together with the initial findings from the latest Business Expenditure on R&D (BERD) survey for 2007 and 2008, which was published in March of this year and is the most recent high level indicator of R&D investment, confirms that substantial progress has been made in achieving these objectives. Both reports provide evidence that the Government's integrated strategy is working, as seen in the following internationally comparable key indicators:
Total R&D spending has almost trebled over 10 years and Ireland's total expenditure on R&D had risen to 1.56% of GNP at end 2006. Total R&D spending across all sectors of the economy is expected to climb to €2.6bn in 2008 (1.66% of GNP). This is an OECD derived indicator called Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD), common to all OECD members.
Business Expenditure on Research and Development (BERD) rose to an estimated €1.56 billion in 2006 — a 17% increase on the previous year — almost double the level recorded in 2000. This trend continued in 2007 with BERD climbing to €1.60bn. It is estimated that BERD will reach €1.68bn in 2008.
The ratio of BERD to economic activity as measured by Gross National Product increased from 0.96% in 2005 to 1% in 2007. It is likely that this ratio will rise further in 2008 to an estimated 1.08% of GNP.
Higher Education R&D spending has almost quadrupled in current terms over 10 years and is now at the EU and OECD average levels. This increased investment in the higher education sector is having a significant impact in terms of human capital development, feeding through to attraction of FDI and commercialisation.
The number of research personnel employed in R&D activities across the business sector in Ireland rose to 13,861 in headcount terms in 2007.
Early estimates of R&D activity levels point to sharp increases in the number of firms performing significant R&D (>€2mn), with 164 significant R&D performers in 2007 compared to 118 in 2005.
There also appears to be evidence of firms who were smaller performers of R&D in 2005 stepping up activity to become larger performers in 2007.
Enterprise Ireland (EI) has developed a range of schemes to ensure we have the capacity to capture and transform the ideas and advances coming from higher education research into commercial reality. EI and IDA are working closely with companies to strengthen the research and technological base of the enterprise sector in order to drive productivity, competitiveness, exports and jobs. In 2008 EI assisted 698 companies to perform R&D. Over the period 2000 to 2007, EI supported 430 High Performance Start-Ups, 40% of which were specifically R&D projects. This investment yielded sales of €638 million, exports of €344 million and generated employment for 5,500 people.
Many of the education aspects of the SSTI are primarily the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science. However, my Department does have responsibility for Science Foundation Ireland and the Discover Science and Engineering programme. Science Foundation Ireland, through its supports for world-class researchers and the creation of world class research centres in higher education institutions, is creating a stream of highly skilled research talent and building Ireland's reputation as a location for R&D activity. Growth in researcher capacity, led by Science Foundation Ireland, coupled with the enhanced R&D tax credit, continues to be a major attraction for overseas investors, and is resulting in a series of significant industrial R&D investments in Ireland by IDA supported companies. Over 40% of IDA investments in 2008 were in R&D with approx. €420 millions of investment. Currently there are about 170 IDA supported companies with a significant R&D mandate with a spend of approx. €1.7 billion. Significant new R&D announcements in 2008 included investments by many world-class companies including Boston Scientific, Oriflame, Business Objects, Synopsis, EMC, IBM (three separate announcements) ON Semiconductor, AON Corp., and CITI.
The Discover Science and Engineering (DSE) Programme aims to raise the general level of awareness of the physical sciences and to raise the level of student uptake of the physical sciences at second and third level. The DSE Programme will continue to play an important role in encouraging young people to study science and technology and in enhancing general science awareness. Despite the current global upheaval, the Government is committed to investing in Ireland's science base as one of the key cornerstones underpinning future jobs in Ireland and the linchpin of our transformation to the Smart Economy. The challenge, for the immediate future, will be to effectively manage the implementation of the Government's Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation in a much tighter resource environment.