Thursday, 31 January 2019

Questions (3)

Billy Kelleher

Question:

3. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she is satisfied with the level of public research and development funding and capital expenditure in public research; if she will consider introducing a new five-year cycle with respect to the programme for research in third-level institutions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4744/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Business)

On Question No. 3, Deputy Butler is substituting for Deputy Kelleher.

My question relates to research and development. Is the Minister of State satisfied with the level of public research and development funding and capital expenditure in public research? Will he consider introducing a new five-year cycle with respect to the programme for research in third-level institutions, PRTLI?

I thank the Deputy for her important question. Ireland has developed a reputation for excellence in research and development and we continue to perform well at international level. We rose to ninth place in the 2018 European innovation scoreboard and stand at tenth in the 2018 global innovation index. Overall expenditure on research and development in Ireland has been increasing steadily since 2012 and is estimated to have reached €3.4 billion in 2017, which is the highest figure on record.

Innovation 2020 is Ireland’s whole-of-Government strategy for research and development, science, and technology, and is driven by my Department. The Government’s ambition is for Ireland to become a global innovation leader. This is the key vision of Innovation 2020. Since the publication of Innovation 2020, direct Exchequer funding for research and development has increased from €736 million in 2015 to an estimated €751 million in 2018. This is the highest level of public expenditure on research and development since 2012. My Department’s research and development budget for 2018 was €357.6 million. The Minister and I secured a further €10.74 million in negotiations during the Supplementary Estimates process.

I recognise that investment in innovation is an essential component in developing the economic and social infrastructure necessary to ensure a resilient and competitive enterprise base and to make many societal changes. Innovation is a common thread running through many Government policies, including the national development plan, NDP, Project Ireland 2040, and Enterprise 2025 Renewed. 

It is estimated that businesses accounted for more than 70% of Ireland’s gross expenditure on research and development investment in 2017, which is interesting. This is the third highest level of private investment in the EU. With this investment, the multinational companies and businesses in Ireland are sending out a statement that they find our research competent, excellent, strategic, and to be at high European and world levels.

The figures can be interpreted in a different way. Ireland is ranked 32nd out of 63 countries in respect of research and development funding as a percentage of GDP. Recent EUROSTAT figures show that Ireland spends less than the European average on research and development. In 2017, just 1.05% of Irish GDP was spent on research and development, compared to an EU average of 2.07%. What is being done to ensure we reach the EU average spend? Will Ireland meet the 2020 target to spend 2.5% of GNP on research and development annually? We all understand how important it is. We are well aware of the good work that goes on in our own Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT. That institute places a strong emphasis on research and development. With the way the world is evolving, there is no doubt about it but that it will be the way forward for business, enterprise and innovation.

European statistics are based on GDP rather than GNP. The difference is that the GNP totals domestic investment, foreign investment and so on. It is unlikely that many European countries will reach the target of 2.5%. On the Deputy's question about where Ireland stands and how well we are doing, we can only go on the European and global statistics we get. Under the heading, Excellent Science, a report from Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, noted that Ireland is tenth in the global scientific ranking. A few examples of our global rankings in different areas are: second in animal and dairy, immunology, and nanotechnology; third in material science; fourth in agricultural science; fifth in chemistry; and sixth in basic medical research. Irrespective of what people might say regarding investment in innovation, we are doing exceptionally well for a small economy and a small population, although we do not have the funding we would like to have. We are involved in 2,359 international collaborations. I have been all over the world and our 18 research centres are recognised as being par excellence throughout Europe and the world. We are doing exceptionally well.

I accept that a lot of good work is being done. I draw the Minister of State's attention to the programme for research in third level institutions, the PRTLI. Since 2015, research funding for universities and colleges under this programme has been cut by 56%. This scheme is critical, as it provides for the upgrading of facilities and allows for investment in laboratories and libraries, thus promoting research. It is a major disappointment that there has been no successor scheme, as the last cycle expired in 2015. Will the Minister of State consider looking at or introducing a new five-year cycle with respect to this programme?

The Government strategy for research and innovation includes an action to scope out and develop a successor to the PRTLI, which was successful, and to support new investment in research infrastructure including buildings and equipment. The scoping of a future cycle of the PRTLI has been undertaken by my Department, working with the Department of Education and Skills. Through SFI, my Department has allocated more than €74 million for research equipment right across the higher education system since the start of 2016, which represents significant additional investment. This figure includes €24.8 million in 2018.

Through SFI, Department has also commenced the roll-out of a new €100 million programme of investment in PhDs and research masters through new centres for research training. We are investigating the roll-out of a new tranche of PRTLI funding currently but the Department will not be found wanting in respect of investment in the research and development infrastructure of our universities and institutes of technology. We are making that investment. Since 2012, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount we have put into research equipment, universities and institutes of technology, including increases in 2016 and 2017. We will continue to put that money in.