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Following a prolonged economic recession preceded by a severe financial crisis, the Irish economy has started to recover through a process of structural reforms and fiscal consolidation. The Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (SSTI) 2006-13 set Ireland’s goals and objectives for R&D and innovation policy and the framework for implementation. The National Recovery Plan (NRP) 2011-14 also made R&D an investment priority, as does the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030.

Hot Issues

Hot Issues are major national STI policy priorities, as self-reported by countries in their responses to the OECD STIO 2014 policy questionnaire.

Addressing challenges of STI globalisation and increasing international cooperation

The Irish innovation system is well integrated in the international science and innovation landscape. In 2012, 52% of S&T publications and 36% of PCT patent applications involved international collaboration (Panel 1q, r), and funding from abroad accounted for 20.4% of GERD. Ireland engages in international co-operation on STI with a wide range of countries in Europe and beyond, including the United States and China. To promote further international co-operation in research and innovation, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) recently introduced two programmes: the Research Centres Programme which aims to develop world-leading, large-scale, theme-based research centres by establishing and improving linkages between foreign MNEs and Irish SMEs, and the International Strategic Cooperation Award (ISCA) programme which supports new and existing research-based collaborations between Ireland’s HEIs and partner organisations in four designated countries so far: Brazil, the People’s Republic of China, India and Japan. ISCA will provide the funding to co-ordinate and carry out a range of activities designed to initiate and/or strengthen academic and associated linkages between one or more of SFI’s eligible research bodies and one or more organisations in one of the four partner countries.

Strengthening public R&D capacity and infrastructures

While public R&D expenditures are below the OECD median (Panel 1a), Ireland is home to three of the world’s top 500 universities (Panel 1b) and performs well in terms of international S&T publications (Panel 1c). In comparison with large EU member states, Ireland has relatively few PRIs, which mostly work on R&D related to natural resources (food, agriculture, forestry and marine), and societal issues (health, energy, the environment). A major objective of the National Strategy for Higher Education is to maximise the excellence and impact of the Irish public research system. To deliver on this objective, the Higher Education Authority has established a comprehensive strategic dialogue with each HEI to monitor and drive its performance. The strategy also fosters regional clusters, and in some cases mergers, of institutions to build critical mass and to ensure efficiency across the system.

Encouraging innovation in firms and supporting entrepreneurship and SMEs

Ireland has a large number of top corporate R&D investors (Panel 1e), thanks to the strong presence of high-technology MNEs. The bulk of Ireland’s BERD (71%) is performed by foreign affiliates, owing to Ireland’s supportive environment for FDI. However, the Ease of Entrepreneurship Index (Panel 1j) indicates the need for improvement, owing in particular to a difficult licencing and permit system and complex regulatory procedures. Entrepreneurship has been given a strong policy focus. The government has committed to produce the first National Entrepreneurship Policy Statement within the context of the Action Plan for Jobs 2014. The statement will contain a set of cross-governmental actions to drive improvements in the overall environment for entrepreneurship and is due to be published in Q2 2014. The Entrepreneurship Policy Statement will build on work undertaken in 2013, which included the establishment of an Entrepreneurship Forum in May 2013 to examine the current environment and policy framework and to make further recommendations to support entrepreneurship and business start-ups. A public consultation was also undertaken in May 2013 inviting views from stakeholders.<br /> The performance of young patenting firms also requires improvement (Panel 1i). In 2014 a new central technology transfer office was launched to improve companies’ access to and use of results from publicly funded research to develop innovative products and services and ultimately to generate jobs and exports. New programmes – the Credit Guarantee Scheme, the Microenterprise Loan Fund, the National Intellectual Property Protocol, the second phase of the Technology Transfer Strengthening Programme (TTSI2), the SFI Industry Fellowships Programme, and the SFI Investigators Programme – have been introduced to support innovation in all categories of firms.

Targeting priority areas/sectors

The report of the Research Prioritisation Steering Group recommended 14 areas of opportunity as well as underpinning technologies, which should receive the majority of competitive public investment in STI over a five-year period.The areas were identified on the basis of existing strengths of the public research system and the enterprise base, opportunities in terms of the global marketplace and those that are most likely to deliver economic and social impact and benefits, including, most notably, jobs, These areas include: data analytics management, security and privacy; manufacturing competitiveness; smart grids and smart cities. The Centre for Applied Data Analytics Research (CeADAR), established in November 2012, aims to accelerate the development, deployment and adoption of Data Analytics technology and related innovations. In July 2013, the Insight Centre (INSIGHT) was established by SFI with funding of USD 94 million (EUR 75 million) from both public and industry sources to bring together leading Irish and international academics from five of Ireland’s research centres to consolidate a national research platform and build critical mass in big data analytics.

Country Charts

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Selected Highlights

STI policy governance

In 2014, the policy research functions of Forfás, Ireland’s policy advisory board for enterprise, trade, science, technology and innovation, will be integrated into the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (DJEI) to strengthen the Department’s capacity for job-creation policy and for evaluation. The current membership of the Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (ACSTI) stood down with effect from September 2013, pending the results of the Forfás integration process and overall policy on public service reform. This does not rule out the option of establishing an Advisory Council of a similar nature on an alternate footing, if this is deemed appropriate in the future. Following publication of the Research Prioritisation Steering Group report in March 2012, the Prioritisation Action Group (PAG), involving all relevant departments and funding agencies, was established to drive implementation of research prioritisation. Action plans for each of the priority areas, as well as a Framework of Metrics and Targets, were drawn up and approved by government in summer 2013. The Action plans represent the detailed blueprint for actions to be taken to re-align the majority of competitive public research funding around the priority areas over the following five years and include a vision, key objectives and specific actions, along with timelines and responsibilities for leading and supporting delivery of the action.

New challenges

Of the 14 priorities identified in the Research Prioritisation Exercise, several address societal challenges: sustainable food production and processing, connected health and independent living, and medical devices and therapeutics. These areas are priorities for competitive R&D funding.

Skills for innovation

Ireland has a relatively strong skills base for innovation: the share of the tertiary-qualified adult population (Panel 1t), the performance of 15-year-olds in science (Panel 1v) and doctoral graduates in science and engineering (Panel 1w) are all above the OECD median. Going forward, Ireland has initiatives – a new Junior Cycle, new science curricula at post-primary level, a review of mathematics curriculum at primary level and ongoing implementation of revised mathematics specifications at post-primary as well as bonus points for mathematics – for strengthening science education in primary and post-primary schools in order to improve education outcomes and increase throughputs to higher education.

Recent developments in STI expenditures

GERD increased from 1.28% GDP in 2007 to 1.66% in 2012, mainly thanks to the rise in BERD from 0.85% to 1.2% of GDP during the years of financial crisis and economic recession. Owing to the impact of the recent crisis, however, public support for R&D and innovation is likely to remain under pressure in the years ahead.