Brian Cowen had an editorial in the Irish Times on Saturday arguing that Ireland will recover as a global innovation hub – ‘the best place in Europe to turn research and knowledge into products and services’ – guided by a policy of creating a smart economy. Presumably this would necessitate a highly trained workforce and a well developed research culture and facilities?

Apparently not.  At the same time that billions of euro are being pumped into propping up the banking and property sectors, there is presently underway a massive disinvestment from the education system – core budgets are being drastically trimmed, staff are being cut, supports slashed, capital programmes terminated, research funds hacked, etc.  And this is despite the fact that the the OECD reports that Ireland, pre-the crash, was one of the lowest spenders per capita on research and development, and on education in general, with very large teacher-student ratios and weak support infrastructure (see paras 18 and 23; Tables 4 and 7; also see here).

At a time when we should be investing heavily in education, we are undertaking savage cuts and doing serious damage to the limited capacities that have been built up over the past few years.  How this helps to foster innovation and entrepreneurship, attract inward investment, and create a smart economy is anyone’s guess.  Without a clear roadmap, accompanied by proper financial investment and political will – as opposed to a list of hopes – it is difficult to see how Ireland as an ‘innovation island’ will materialise.  Perhaps if we repeat our desire to be an innovation island enough, it’ll simply happen?  Or perhaps we could invest in education and research capacity building, or at the least seek to maintain pre-cut levels?

Here’s an interesting research question for the government – who do they think will want to move their research and development operations to a country where they are actively disinvesting in the creation of talent?