13th July 2017, Dublin – Science Foundation Ireland has today published its 2016 annual report, highlighting the significant impact achieved from the €184 million investment by the agency across its research programmes. The Foundation’s ongoing investments in outstanding research teams saw €169 million leveraged in 2016, comprising €71 million in EU funding, €45 million from private enterprise and €53 million from other sources. 

Commenting on the report, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, Frances Fitzgerald TD, said: “Science Foundation Ireland’s strategic investment in world-leading and impactful science has changed the face of scientific research in Ireland and is allowing us to play a meaningful role in global scientific developments. In 2016, Ireland achieved a world ranking of 10th for the overall quality of its scientific research, an increase of 26 places in only 13 years. This is the first time that Ireland has entered the top 10 in this ranking and I am very proud of that achievement. However, it is perhaps even more important that we are gaining economic and societal benefits from our investment in research and innovation. Lives are being improved through technological and medical advances, and high-quality sustainable jobs are being created. Ireland’s future stability and growth is more assured as a result of Science Foundation Ireland’s investments in Irish research and I greatly welcome the progress this is driving.”

Other key indicators demonstrating the successes achieved by Science Foundation Ireland in 2016 include its direct and indirect support of 31,000 jobs; its support of over 1,600 industry collaborations, and funded researchers being involved in 2,359 international academic collaborations in 63 countries. 

Commenting on the publication of Science Foundation Ireland’s annual report, John Halligan TD, Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Developmentsaid: “All regions of Ireland are benefiting from this significant Government investment, with Science Foundation Ireland’s research teams collaborating with companies in every region. Alongside these considerable economic achievements, Science Foundation Ireland had an extraordinarily successful year in terms of its objective to have the most scientifically engaged and informed public. Over a quarter of a million people were reached by Science Week in 2016, a public engagement project of huge scale which ignites an interest in science among every age group and demographic in Ireland. Additionally, over 1,600 Smart Futures volunteers have engaged with over 110,000 students, sharing their own science stories and encouraging these students to consider STEM careers. Science Foundation Ireland’s broadcast strategy saw ‘Big Week on the Farm’ reach 1.5 million viewers and facilitated new productions on RTÉ One, RTÉ Two, RTÉjr, and eir Sport.”

Looking forward

A key priority for Science Foundation Ireland in 2017 will be to support its new SFI Research Centres. Announced last month, following rigorous international review, eight SFI Research Centres have been identified as meeting the highest standard for scientific excellence and potential future impact. Science Foundation Ireland has funding to support four of these and will invest €72 million over the next six years, with 80 industry partners committing an additional €38 million. 

2017 will also see the Foundation continuing to build industry and academic partnerships, developing Ireland’s international footprint in scientific research and enhancing its network with global centres of excellence. The Foundation will continue to devote resources to attracting and retaining the best scientific and engineering research talent and supporting impactful research that delivers for Ireland. 

Science Foundation Ireland Chairman, Ann Riordan, said: “While Brexit has serious implications for Ireland generally, there are also opportunities in science and research. In 2016, Science Foundation Ireland worked hard to put Ireland in a position to best avail of these opportunities. We are working closely with our partners in the UK - the UK Research Councils, the Royal Society and Wellcome - and with individual research and education organisations there.”

The Chairman added, “As well as strengthening our ties with the UK, we built other important international relationships. In 2016, Science Foundation Ireland became the first European funding agency to implement the prestigious US National Science Foundation (NSF) entrepreneurship programme - ICorps@SFI, building on our longstanding relationship with the NSF. We also announced a new partnership with the National Natural Science Foundation of China. We performed very well in terms of EU funding in 2016, and will continue to build partnerships through academia and industry across organisations in Europe.  

I was delighted to also welcome the publication of the Foundation’s ‘Gender Strategy’, a comprehensive framework delivering actions to retain and increase the participation of excellent female researchers in STEM careers in Ireland.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “Our SFI Research Centres supported economic activity, created new industry partnerships and drove public engagement in 2016, while also undertaking excellent and impactful research. To date the SFI Research Centres have delivered 300 collaborations with industry, 13 spin-out companies, 190 Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Awards, and 100 license agreements.  Income secured from industry commitments and international funding sources in the last four years equates to a direct financial return of almost 70% of the full State investment in SFI Research Centres, in only four years of operation. The private sector is highly committed to the SFI Research Centres programme; almost 400 industry partners have committed €228 million to support the twelve current and four newly approved Centres.”

Professor Ferguson went on to say, “An expert group, of which I was a member, established to advise the European Commission on investment in innovation, has recently recommended that the EU should double its investment in this critical area. Innovation 2020, Ireland’s strategy for research, also aspires to double national investment in research, development and innovation. I believe that this is the right plan; investment in talent and in innovation has never been more important to secure a stable and sustainable future for Ireland.  Science Foundation Ireland looks forward to working with government, industry, the public and the research community to create that future.”

#BelieveInScience

2016 saw Science Foundation Ireland’s most successful Science Week yet, indicating Ireland’s citizens are interested in global scientific issues and challenges. With that in mind, Science Foundation Ireland launched the #BelieveInScience campaign in 2017 to promote the potential that science and discovery offer for Ireland. The #BelieveInScience campaign will see Science Foundation Ireland work in partnership with the Irish research community to share a mutual passion for science with the public, promoting an understanding of the ability of science, technology, engineering and maths to create positive change in the world and to drive a sustainable economy in Ireland.

The Science Foundation Ireland 2016 Annual Report can be downloaded in full here.