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Ireland envisions 70% spending boost for research

The Irish government today released an ambitious 5-year vision for stimulating innovation. Developed by several agencies, the plan calls for increasing total investment in R&D by about a third to 2.0% of gross domestic product. In cash terms, that would mean a rise in public and private spending from last year’s €2.9 billion to about €5 billion per year in 2020.

“It is fantastic to see the Irish government’s commitment to increasing the overall spending on research,” neuroscientist Kevin Mitchell of Trinity College in Dublin told ScienceInsider. “After many years of crisis management, it is great to see a longer-term strategy and vision take shape.” 

The 88-page document includes numerous quantitative goals, such as:

* a doubling of private investment in public R&D to €48 million per year;

* 40,000 research personnel working in business, a 60% increase; and  

* 2250 masters and Ph.D. enrollments per year, up 30%, to be targeted "in disciplines aligned to enterprise and other national needs."

The plan calls for creating a competitive fund for “frontier research” by 2017, although it does not specify the amount of funding. “We certainly hope that the scheme will be given a substantial budget to balance out the very strong focus on industry-facing research across the rest of the strategy,” Mitchell says. He was one of more 1069 scientists who signed an open letter to the government in March urging a renewed focus on basic research.

The government also announced it will explore joining CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics near Geneva, Switzerland, and the European Southern Observatory.

The document is more aspirational than prescriptive, calling on governmental agencies to review tax credits and other incentives for private investment in R&D, for example.

The new strategy was welcomed by the Irish business council Ibec and the Irish Universities Association (IUA). “These initiatives will support a wider spectrum of research and better equip Ireland to find solutions to the complex challenges facing us,” said Ned Costello, chief executive of IUA.