Building Research Capacity in the Social Sciences-Alternatives Approaches

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

In contrast to previous decades, the past decade has seen major investments by the Irish government in the national research capacity. As part of this investment, there has been a significant investment in the social sciences with the creation of major institutes in the universities and the rapid expansion of numbers of students supported in PhD programmes. This paper reviews the recent developments and contrasts them with the only other significant investment in the social sciences research made over the past half century, namely, through the creation of the Economic and Social Research Institute [ESRI]. Drawing on the different experiences, the paper suggests key issues that should be addressed in reviewing the development of these recent investments and on what might be appropriate future strategies.

Section 2 sketches the background to the paper by describing the Irish state's approach to investment in research capacity in the period prior to the mid-1990s followed by an overview of the increased focus on investment in research in recent years. Section 3 provides a simple framework for discussing possible approaches to supporting the building of capacity in the social sciences. This framework distinguishes institution building, capacity building and generation of PhD graduates. Using this framework, Section 4 looks at the approaches to increased research support for the social sciences in the past decade, focusing specifically on the establishment of Institutes in the Higher Education Institutions [HEIs] under the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions [PRTLI], and the PhD funding programmes under the PRTLI and the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and the Social Sciences [IRCHSS]. (2) It also looks at the earlier approach to investment in social science research through the establishment of ESRI. (3) Section 5 explores what can be learnt from the two approaches that would help guide strategy in the future.

2. BACKGROUND

A key feature of Irish policy making until the early 1990s was the extent to which there was little connectedness between investment in research and development [R&D], either public or private, and economic growth. This disconnectedness was also reflected in the fact that data in relation to R&D and innovation were not integrated into the National Statistical Framework. Data collected on R&D, under the auspices of the OECD, did not feature in policy discussions and the implication of Ireland being relatively underinvested in both HERD [Higher Education R&D] and BERD [Business Expenditure in R&D] did not feature strongly in policy discussions until very recent times. The budgets for R&D moved between government departments and agencies, and were not a priority in the 1970s or 1980s. From the perspective of HERD, interest lay in ensuring that Ireland drew down as much funding as possible from the various EU Framework programmes. (4) The BERD perspective was complicated by the fact that the low corporate tax rate reduced the incentive for investment in R&D by multinational enterprises [who undertook research in the high-tax locations] and that the small scale of Irish-owned enterprises was such that they were not in a position for the most part to engage in research locally. (5)

The major exception in this area was agriculture and, more latterly, food. From the time that the Agricultural Institute was established in 1958 there was significant state funding for research related to increasing productivity in agriculture, and more recently towards developing food products. (6) Not surprisingly then, food companies in Ireland have been to the fore of indigenous enterprises in investing in research and development and innovation activities generally.

Ireland was not unique in its approach to R&D, but the scale of underinvestment in HERD and BERD came into Irish policy focus in the 1990s as the key conclusions of endogenous growth theory were mainstreamed into policy across all OECD countries and particularly in the European Union. …