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Launch of the £180m Initiative to Develop Research in Higher Education

 

I am delighted to welcome you all here this morning to launch yet another extremely significant milestone in the Government's commitment to Ireland's future technological success. As a Government we have opted to bring forward a whole range of measures which will ensure, that in terms of investment, infrastructure, education and skilled personnel, Ireland will be able to become a key global player in IT, and other leading edge technologies. Today's announcement is another very significant link in our planned chain of measures to achieve that end.

This £180 million Initiative to develop and enhance our research capacity in Higher Education, involves a public/private research fund, and I know that Minister Micheál Martin and his team are very happy to have achieved it.

Research and development has assumed an importance of ever-increasing magnitude in the modern era and is responsible for transforming and improving the lives of millions of people globally. Given the central role which research and development has played in fuelling our present economic success it is appropriate that we gather here today to launch this initiative.

The performance of the economy in recent years has been outstanding, with the growth in output being several times the EU average. The sustained economic growth and development in Ireland in recent years has been built upon the skills of the Irish population. It is essential that future graduates and post-graduates can continue to meet international standards. As we all know, we are at a critical point in our efforts to meet the skilled manpower needs of the economy, and in ensuring that we deepen our research and development base to allow for the continuing development of our economy.

We have moved to address these two demands. Through the setting up of the £250 million Scientific and Technological Education Investment Fund last year, we are already moving to modernise our third-level institutions and meet emerging skills' needs. This announcement today builds on the success of that fund and will ensure that researchers working in the third-level sector are supported with modern buildings and equipment.

Investment in research and development strengthens the linkages between education and the economy and helps to emphasise the economic dividends of education. Such investment also importantly contributes to ensuring knowledge-based growth and in preparing for knowledge intensive industries. Investment in research and development also provides the environment for training future graduates and post-graduates to international standards and there is no other way to get such exposure for new graduates. Furthermore, a culture of successful research and development creates a positive relationship with the quality of teaching and post-graduate output. All developed countries are unanimous in their support for research and development for these reasons and there is no doubt that it is in our national strategic interest to become more active in this area.

It is clear that research and development in higher education is absolutely crucial to attracting knowledge-based industries to Ireland. In the past, the level of investment in research was not consistent with national economic and social development needs or with this Government's aspirations to create a high added value, prosperous and advancing economy.

This year, for the first time, £5 million was set aside in the estimates for the Department of Education and Science for recurrent funding of research and development projects. This was a new departure for us - the first time that substantial dedicated funding for research and development had been made available through the Department of Education and Science. Today's announcement marks a further step-change in this area.

This initiative guarantees that the Government is committed to research and development and will implement a real partnership by harnessing the interest and goodwill of the private sector. This initiative gives a reality to a vision of the future which I have addressed on many occasions and which has already been adopted by the Government in its partnership approach to education, training and enterprise.

The importance of the sciences to our economic well being cannot be over-exaggerated. Ireland at the present moment is the world's second-largest exporter of computer software after the United States and this sector is vital to our future economic success. The key to this future is co-operation between Government, education and industry. Initiatives such as this will continue this era of new co-operation and ensure the continuity of our economic development.

A man named August Hare once said something that I believe reflects Ireland's journey over the last decade. He said "Thought is the wind, knowledge the sail, and mankind the vessel". Knowledge has indeed been our sail, transporting us from the relative economic deprivation of the past to our present growing affluence. We have come a long way, both as a State and as a people. I firmly believe that it is the duty of all of us, whether in Government, in business, in industry or in education, to ensure that the journey continues and that our present success becomes our future success. It behoves on us to establish a platform from which our economy and society can continue to build and to create a secure and prosperous future for succeeding generations. Initiatives such as today's, are critical to that future.

If it can be said, and I believe it can, that Irish monks saved history by copying out the great classics line by line, I think that in this generation we are in a position to make history - in the peace process, in assuring social inclusion and very specially in confirming Ireland's position as a World Leader in Information Technology and other leading edge technologies. That's what we want to do.