Irish universities are major drivers of research and innovation in Ireland and account for 20% of total annual national expenditure on R&D and represent 83% of all R&D expenditure in the higher education sector.
Ireland’s publicly-funded research system, centred predominantly in the higher education system, has made great strides over the last two decades benefiting the citizens of Ireland and enhance Ireland’s international standing. Public investment in research, even in years of recession, has contributed to economic recovery and a progressive society with a network of top-class researchers who demonstrated the value of discovery and knowledge creation through the impact made on fighting COVID-19 and coming through the pandemic.
Higher education research is funded by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science through the Higher Education Authority. Additional funding comes through Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council along with many other Government Departments’ funding agencies including the Health Research Board, Enterprise Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency, Teagasc, etc. Further competitive funding is won at an international level from the European Commission through Horizon 2020 / Horizon Europe, and through industry collaboration at both a national and international level.
Irish universities accounted for approximately 50% of total funding raised by Irish enterprises and institutions under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme between March 2014 and May 2019. Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU research and innovation programme with the aims of ensuring Europe produces world-class science, removes barriers to innovation and makes it easier for the public and private sectors to work together in delivering innovation. The predominance of the Irish universities as the destination for Horizon 2020 funding in Ireland is indicative of their important role in supporting innovation in Ireland. In the context of Brexit, there may be additional opportunities for Irish universities and enterprises to build on this success.
The impact of university R&D on innovation in Irish enterprise is very substantial. This encompasses patents, research agreements and collaborations with enterprise, licences, options and assignments, invention disclosures, spin-outs and incubator companies.
For example, in 2018 across the HEIs there were:
- 1,824 live research collaboration agreements with industry
- 487 new invention disclosures
- 119 spin-outs thriving three years post-incorporation
- 33 new products and services launched
Additionally, higher education research supports Irish based companies with 80% of collaboration agreements signed between a research performing organization and a company based in Ireland. Furthermore, 95% of collaboration agreements with the SME sector were with Irish SMEs.
Through its university graduates, Ireland’s educated workforce has been widely cited as a key reason for Ireland’s success in continuing to attract foreign direct investment and in supporting indigenous enterprises. In the 2018 IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook, Ireland was ranked 9th in the world in terms of the ability of university education to meet the needs of a competitive economy.