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institutional research programs and research clusters,” an area
in which UCD actually has been very active. “But if you try
and force collaboration, it will fail. Some of the language (of
Irish policymakers) suggests that collaboration is an end in its
own right. The question is whether it adds value.”
The reason for the national government’s power over
universities in cases like the poaching feud is simple: It
accounts for 86 percent of their funding. And it is using
money to steer policy. Spending on education in Ireland has
soared from 1.74 billion euros a year in 1990 to six billion
euros a year today, of which about 1.5 billion goes to the
universities. (One euro was worth $1.29 at press time.) And
more money has begun to flow since higher education was
put at the center of the national economic development
strategy, much of it for research.
First there was the Program for Research inThird-Level
Institutions, which from 1998 to 2002 committed 605 million
euros to research infrastructure. Then came the Technology
Foresight Fund of 711 million euros over seven years,
mainly for information and communications technologies
and biotechnology, which is administered by the Science
Foundation Ireland, or SFI (modeled after the U.S. National
Science Foundation). The SFI has already awarded more than
250 million euros for research and has invested 42 million
euros in three new centers for science, engineering and
technology to connect Irish universities with communications
and biotechnology companies.
Other annual government funding for research has
increased to 680 million euros, up from 334 million in 2000.
Higher education’s share of that has helped the universities
increase their research and development spending from
322 million euros a year to nearly half a billion, more than a
50 percent jump. In exchange, the government expects the
number of doctoral students in science, engineering and
technology to double by 2010.
In all, the government has earmarked 2.5 billion euros in
the last five years for research, technology, innovation and
development, a five-fold increase compared to
the five years before that. In June, a 30 million
euro fund was set up to improve technology
transfer from universities to industry. “With
our new strategy, what we’re saying is we
want to take this idea of commercialization
and translation of ideas and make that an
equal part of the teaching and learning,” said
Ned Costello, former assistant secretary of
the Department of Enterprise, Trade and
Employment (itself an indication of the
tightening link between the economy and
higher education), and the new head of the
Irish Universities Association.
The best example of howmoney is being
used to pull the universities into line with
government economic policy is the new Strategic Innovation
Fund, which will spend 300 million euros over five years to
promote inter-institutional collaboration. In December, the
government approved the first 14 projects under the fund,
totaling 42 million euros.
Irish universities are not big enough to do the scale of
research that is needed, policymakers say. UCD’s ambitions
notwithstanding, “None of us are big enough by ourselves,”
said Browne, in Galway. Ireland can not afford seven
universities if each of them tries to be world-class in every
discipline, but it can create a network of collaboration, he said.
“There are 105,000 students in the whole country. There are
universities in other countries with that many students. If we
all try to do everything, we won’t get anywhere.”
NUI-Galway, one of four constituent, but largely
independent, universities of the National University of Ireland
(the others are UCD, University College Cork, and NUI-
Maynooth) has been making changes more quietly and with
less turmoil than UCD and Trinity. “Galway and other Irish
universities are relatively intimate. People already know each
other,” Browne said in his office in the university’s quadrangle,
a replica of Christ Church College at Oxford. “Change is
always painful. But there’s more support for collaboration
than people realize. If you talk about a public university, which
is supported by the taxpayer, it has an obligation to society,
to its stakeholders. It won’t be neat, but I believe there’s an
imperative for change here.”
That change requires each university to specialize in a
selected area, with the others as its partners, Browne said.
“We could lead biomedical engineering, and others could
be involved. Trinity could lead genetics, and we could be
Many faculty and
students protest
that administrators
and the government
are neglecting the
humanities in favor
of science and
technology.
Sean Barrett, a senior lecturer in economics at Trinity College,
is critical of the new emphasis on graduate education and
research.