From the Rosetta Space Probe to the COVID 19 vaccine, EU research investment changes the game
This month’s announcement of 13.5bn will lead to headline discoveries in energy, health and geopolitics
by Shaun Gavigan, EU Grants Coordinator, Insight SFI Centre for Data Analytics
This month the EU announced an investment of €13.5 billion in research and innovation for 2023-2024, to support researchers and innovators in Europe to pursue breakthrough solutions for environmental, energy, digital and geopolitical challenges. The money is part of the broader EU €95.5 billion research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe. It will help to achieve a stronger European research and innovation ecosystem.
The story was covered in EU and science focused publications but like most EU research funding announcements, it didn’t make the headlines.
The fundamental role of European funding in supporting scientific research is often invisible to the very people that benefit most from the resulting technological innovations. Is it really important that the support of Europe funding for scientific research is acknowledged? Throughout his term as European Commissioner for Research, Carlos Moedas often emphasised the significance, explaining that the only way to tackle urgent global challenges was through the development of life-changing solutions provided by the research community. It was necessary, he argued, to draw a straight line between scientific research and societal, economic and environmental improvements. Only by doing so, could there be any hope of national and European agencies continuing to fund science at a level necessary to ensure future breakthroughs.
While this acknowledgement deficit is a constant source of frustration among European policymakers, it is something that is starting to change. One only needs to look at the new European Missions under Horizon Europe programmes to see that funding bodies are increasingly hardwiring communications activities into the design of their research and innovation programmes.
In Ireland the National Challenge Fund, run by Science Foundation Ireland, emerged from a similar consideration, adopting a solutions-focused approach that connects researchers to societal and economic problems. The SFI programme and the European Missions programme are modelled on the 1960s ‘moonshot’ programme, where the concern is not only with achieving scientific breakthroughs but to excite the public about the ability of science to solve some of the world’s more pressing challenges.
National challenges with tangible benefits for citizens are important initiatives. The collaboration between The Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics and the Health Service Executive, Minimising Hospital Waiting Lists and Optimising Healthcare Capacity, is such an example project. Artificial intelligence and data analytics have the potential to transform many aspects of the economy and society within Ireland. There can be few better uses of this enabling technology than supporting the effective and efficient delivery of healthcare to citizens. All third level organisations and research centres have a responsibility to acknowledge the crucial role that funding bodies play in enabling researchers to make scientific breakthroughs or develop innovations.
SFI puts a strong emphasis on engaging in funding programmes at a European level, providing Irish researchers with a platform to compete and collaborate with the continent’s strongest research groups. The importance of this collaboration environment is immediately evident when one looks at the ongoing discussion over the post-Brexit position of UK-based researchers.
The Government’s new Impact 2030 strategy, launched last month, is set to transform Ireland’s research and innovation landscape. However, it is clear that the starting point is a strong one, both from the perspective of advancing excellent research and its associated communication.
Major scientific breakthroughs make headlines, and offer validation for the investment of public funding. The incremental nature of science is understandably less newsworthy. However, what needs to be always acknowledged is the impact of our funders in enabling scientific excellence. Their support is the foundation upon which dynamic and impactful research and innovation environments are built. This needs to be continually acknowledged.