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Speech by Batt O'Keeffe, Minister for Education & Science

27 Nov 2009

Speech by Batt O'Keeffe TD, Minister for Education and Science, at the launch of 'Transformations - What Research Is Doing For Ireland' at the Science Gallery, TCD, Dublin

Good morning everyone
 
Can I begin by expressing what a pleasure it is to be here this morning to mark ten years of wonderful achievement under the PRTLI.  The research landscape in Ireland has been revolutionised over this past decade of PRTLI investments.  I am delighted to join with Minister Devins here this morning to acknowledge and celebrate the many achievements that have been enabled by the PRTLI over that time. 
 
The PRTLI was the first strategic investment in research in higher education and has laid the foundations for what we now call "fourth level" education.  Through it role in both skills development and the generation of new knowledge it has been one of the key building blocks to our recent economic success and, more importantly from our current vantage, to our future prosperity.

The figures that go with the PRTLI are very impressive. A total of €865 million has been approved under the four cycles of the programme to date, of which some €648 million has been provided by the Exchequer. It has provided research space that is equivalent to seven Croke Parks; and has funded in excess of 1,600 postgraduate students.
 
A very significant proportion of the non Exchequer funding came from one source, Atlantic Philanthropies. In this tenth anniversary year I would like, on my own behalf and on behalf of all the Irish people, to thank Chuck Feeney for his generosity, far-sightedness and confidence in the Irish higher education system. His gift to Ireland through the PRTLI has been truly transformational.
 
The PRTLI continues to draw support from non-Exchequer sources - in Cycle 4 alone, which was announced in 2007, almost €32 million in non-exchequer funding was secured by higher education institutions, in addition to the €229 million being provided from the Exchequer. I see the direct evidence of this investment in my visits to institutions around the country. Earlier this week for example, I was in UCC and saw the Analytical and Biological Chemistry Research Facility where Pfizer has invested in specialised equipment as a component of its collaboration with that facility.
 
The title of the book being launched here this morning is fitting. The investments made under PRTLI have transformed our campuses - creating the research capacity and capability from which the future innovation capacity of the economy can grow. The research centres provided through the PRTLI have enabled and supported the leveraging of funding from a range of other sources. To date nearly €1 billion has been secured for research in higher education, which includes some €120 million from international and EU sources. PRTLI has also been key to securing EU investment and to underpinning Ireland's wider enterprise development strategy - enabling the IDA to support collaborative projects and supporting the formation of spin out companies with Enterprise Ireland.
 
PRTLI has both directly and indirectly led to the establishment of significant partnerships between third level research and industry. Over 40 industry collaborations were established under the third cycle of the PRTLI alone. Among the many exciting examples of this is the collaboration established here in Trinity College Dublin last year between the Institute of Neuroscience and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and with the support of IDA Ireland.  That collaboration will see some €15 million invested towards the discovery of new therapies for Alzheimer's disease.
 
This pattern and the impact of the Programme is not confined to the sciences but is also clear in the social development sphere, where centres founded under the programme are now linked into policy development.For example the Centre for Transport Research and Innovation led by TCD, which works with the Dublin Transport Office and Dublin planning authorities. These are just a couple of examples of where PRTLI funded Centres are making an impact on the quality of our lives. Today's publication illustrates many more. 
 
But these physical manifestations, while the most obvious outputs, are only part of the role of PRTLI. A key return is of course the highly skilled graduates who make wider contributions to the economy and society. We are already seeing the benefits of our PRTLI investment in terms of academic and economic indicators.

 

  •   There is an increase in business expenditure on research,
  •    an increase in the numbers of researchers in the workforce,
  •    an increase in the number of patents generated by the universities,
  •    an increase in the numbers of collaborations with companies,
  •    an increase in the number of spin off companies
  •    and an increase in the number of foreign direct investments with R&D dimensions.

 

All of these reflect the growing momentum of the impact of government investment in research.
 
The huge leap Ireland has made over the last ten years is not only recognised here at home but it is also recognised internationally and we are now seen as a credible location for world class research. This is no more evident than in the announcement this week by Euroscience that Dublin has been chosen as the European City of Science for 2012. This wonderful achievement will provide us with a great opportunity to showcase our research capabilities.
 
Among its most significant achievements has been the impact of the PRTLI on the culture of collaboration, both across institutions and across disciplines, within our higher education system. Promoting new and deeper forms of collaboration was a primary objective of the PRTLI from day one.  That objective was borne out of recognition that the Irish system is small in international terms. To achieve the scale necessary to support internationally significant research activity here, the Government recognised the need to ensure that talent, resources and facilities within the Irish system would be pooled around centres of excellence that crossed all of the traditional boundaries within the Irish system. 
 
PRTLI has succeeded in forging powerful new alliances between traditionally competitor institutions and disciplines. It persuaded people across the system to look beyond previous protective self-interest into the powerful possibilities of partnership. It persuaded Irish higher education institutions that our most potent competition is global and that in order for Ireland to prosper in this global knowledge era, we would have to think and act differently from before.  PRTLI has been a transformational success because it has provided the tools to allow the vision, creativity and ability of people across the Irish system of higher education to be put to work for Ireland's greater benefit.       
 
The ten years of PRTLI have also of course coincided with dramatic wider economic and social change in Ireland. The scale and impact of the recent global economic downturn reminds us that the challenges of securing Ireland's continuing prosperity are complex and dynamic. Our strategic investment in Ireland's research and development capacity now provides a core economic foundation as we look to weather current difficulties and ensure a return to sustainable future growth. 

That strategic investment is more important now than ever before. Our current economic challenges drive home the critical importance of investing in the protection of our future competitive advantage. Our choice is clear.  Future Irish competitive strength will rely on our ability to foster a culture of ideas and innovation and in our capacity to translate these into high value jobs.  
 
Those economic challenges are also urgent. That is why the Government is setting in place the building blocks for economic renewal and restructuring. As we endeavour to weather the economic storm we must create the policies and institutional arrangements that drive Ireland up the economic value chain so that we create quality and well-paid jobs for current and future generations. It is the ability, creativity and ingenuity of our people - our human capital - which will drive future economic progress.
 
Investing in research and development is crucial in this regard. However, research and innovation are limited in their contribution unless we also turn a significant number of those ideas into commerialised products and services. The creation of a strong research, innovation and commercialisation ecosystem is a core part of economic policy and will be a crucial driver of future economic growth.
 
The Strategy for Science Technology and Innovation is of course a critical element of the roadmap for laying those foundations for economic renewal and expansion.  And the forthcoming fifth cycle of PRTLI is an essential plank for delivering on the objectives of that strategy. A call for proposals under Cycle five of the PRTLI will issue in the next few weeks. This will constitute an important component of our future strategy for the economy.
 
In successfully creating the future knowledge capacity on which our competitiveness will rely, there is also a need to look critically at roles and relationships within the higher education system itself. If Ireland's full innovation potential is to be realised, we need to ensure that our higher education institutions are appropriately configured to deliver maximum impact on investment. Through the last ten years of PRTLI, and more recently the Strategic Innovation Fund, powerful new collaborations have been created. However, the next phase of our economic development demands imaginative new responses to reach new levels of research and innovation performance in global terms. 

In particular, we need to identify the future roles and relationships of higher education institutions that can enable the Irish system to reach those new levels of performance. This will involve an ever greater concentration of resources and expertise in pursuit of national development goals. 

The higher education strategy will seek to address the need for re-organisation and re-configuration of roles within the system. The challenge of economic renewal requires us to ramp up our innovation performance. To help to make that happen we need to re-invent and re-think our approaches within higher education. Can any one of our universities or institutes go it alone in taking performance to the next level? If not, what are the new forms of alliance that we now need to contemplate? The challenge to the sector is to create new possibilities that can advance our knowledge base and generate new opportunity for innovation and growth. 
 
I know that the higher education system is ready to respond to that challenge with the determination and imagination of so often in the past. The Government's agenda for economic renewal will require serious engagement from the sector over the coming year and beyond in seeing through our current difficulties to new opportunities for now shaping our capacity for sustained economic prosperity in the decades ahead. 

In conclusion, I am delighted to see this Exhibition and this publication. While they show only a snap shot of the impact of what has been funded, they make an important contribution to communicating with the public how their money is being used to good effect and in demonstrating the many tangible and intangible ways in which research is improving our lives.
 
I want to congratulate everyone involved, from the individual researchers to the heads of our higher education institutions - and to the HEA who have steered the development and implementation of this Programme over the past decade. All of you can take great pride on this occasion in your roles at the forefront of this great national project - the PRTLI. 
 
Ends.

Analytical & Biological Chemistry Research Facility

Analytical & Biological Chemistry Research Facility Cavanagh Pharmacy Building University College Cork College Road, Cork

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