No ERC Advanced Grants for Ireland…

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I noticed last week that the results of the latest round of ERC Advanced Grants under the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme have been announced. This is the outcome of the 2023 round of applications.

First of all, many congratulations to the 255 recipients of almost €652 million in grants across all disciplines! There are some names I recognize among the awardees, which is very nice to see.

Unfortunately, not one cent of that money will be coming to Ireland as not one researcher based in Ireland is among the winners. Here’s the breakdown of awards:

Germany heads the table, with the UK in second – though, if I understand correctly, there is no ERC money attached to the UK awards in this round because the association agreement between the UK and Horizon Europe was only signed in September 2023 and will only come into play from the 2024 round onwards. Funds for these grants will have to be provided by the UK Government.

The outcome for Ireland is dismal but hardly surprising. Ireland spends only around 1% of its GDP on Research and Development, and only a small part of that is in research grants. There simply isn’t a funding stream to nurture a environment that would allow research to flourish here as it does in other countries. It is true that Ireland is a much smaller country than those at the top table, but it is massively out-performed by nations of a similar size such as Denmark, Finland and Norway. Advanced Grant winners represent the tip of the research pyramid, but they require a solid platform on which to build. In Ireland that platform simply doesn’t exist.

It often seems that Irish politicians think Ireland’s universities exist only to train people to work for Google. At any rate they are unconvinced that academic research is important enough to fund adequately, and this is unlikely to change in the near future as this issue is unlikely to be on the agenda at all for forthcoming election campaigns. The systemic failure of successive governments to invest in R&D, even when running a healthy budget surplus, is just one example of the short-termism that plagues Irish politics. Until attitudes change, talented young researchers, who could contribute so much to the scientific, technological and cultural landscape here, will continue to leave to carry out their research elsewhere.

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