Published: December 2007
In February 2006, the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference instituted a review of areas for potential North/South economic cooperation. The importance of innovation for future international competitiveness was recognised and the resulting report, "Comprehensive Study on the All-Island Economy", called for an all-island mapping study of research centres on the island with a view to facilitating the development of greater collaboration.
This study is designed to contribute to the North/South policy debate on science, technology and innovation by profiling the research and technological development (RTD) centres on the island, exploring the nature and extent of cross-border collaboration, exploring opportunities for collaboration and making recommendations to address those opportunities.
Of the 96 centres who responded to the study, 41 are based in Northern Ireland and 55 in Ireland. Over half have been founded since 2000 and almost one quarter operate annual budgets of £7m/€10.5m or over.
The main disciplines covered by the RTD centres include, life & health technologies, information and communication technologies (ICT), nanosciences & nanotechnologies, aerospace technologies & advanced manufacturing, agri-food technologies and environmental technologies. Life & health technologies and information and communication technologies are the most common areas of activity for centres and 43 per cent of centres cite activity in multiple disciplines.
Peer-reviewed publication is the main indicator of activity for centres. However, there is evidence of commercial activity with almost half of centres holding patents and almost one quarter having created spin-out companies from their work.
Nature and Extent of Collaboration
Almost two thirds of centres have reported engagement with the private sector. Of the levels of industry collaboration reported by centres, the majority (43.5 per cent) is with local industry partners on a joint risk and reward basis. Cross-border collaborations with industry account for 6.5 per cent.
Almost 70 per cent of centres cite public sector bodies amongst their clients. The greatest proportion of joint risk and reward collaborations are with EU partners (39 per cent) and local partners (29 per cent). 9 per cent of such collaborations are on a cross-border basis. Of the levels of public sector, contractual collaboration, the majority is with EU partners (46 per cent) and local partners (36 per cent). Cross-border contractual collaborations account for 8 per cent.
In total, over half of the responding centres have engaged in cross-border collaboration over the last 5 years and cite funding opportunities, skills and experience and facilities of the partner as the main drivers for collaboration. The report points to a lack of knowledge about opportunities in terms of incentives and potential partners as the main barriers to cross-border collaboration.
Opportunities for Collaboration
The report identifies the centres’ potential for cross-border collaboration by examining internal factors (such as staff and budget levels, track record for collaboration and research activity outputs) and the external environment (commerciality of research area and existence of partners in the opposite jurisdiction). A total of 36 centres were identified as having the highest potential for cross-border collaboration. These centres cover the range of disciplines referred to earlier and are split equally between Ireland (18) and Northern Ireland (18). A further 23 centres were identified (Ireland, 15; Northern Ireland, 8) as having potential for developing cross-border collaboration.
The Case for All-Island Collaboration
The report demonstrates that centres collaborate, to a greater extent, with local industry and academic partners compared to cross-border partners. This can be attributed to the investments being made by each jurisdiction to support the industry-academic interface and the scale and quality of research undertaken. These investments support the common policy objectives in both jurisdictions to translate research into business and to expand the research system.
The levels of cross-border collaboration identified in the study point to a distinct border-effect which can be explained by a combination of factors including limited knowledge of potential partners and of the incentives that accommodate or encourage all-island collaboration. The availability of suitable funding has been both a driver and a barrier to collaboration. When schemes have existed, they have stimulated projects and collaborative relationships. However, the connections have tended to weaken post funding.
A further extension of industry and academic collaboration across the border will deliver enhanced mutual scientific and economic benefits by bringing together resources and excellence to achieve critical mass in areas where the island can compete internationally.
Recognising these benefits University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin have, earlier this year, established framework agreements with Queen’s University Belfast to promote, facilitate and consolidate cooperation in education and research in areas of mutual interest.
The report shows that centres demonstrate varying degrees of potential for all-island collaboration. There is no doubt that there are excellent centres in both jurisdictions in some key and rapidly developing technologies and it is these that offer the greatest prospects of delivering mutual benefit if their scale can be developed through enduring cross-border collaboration.
These are based on the 2 main issues identified as barriers to cross-border collaboration; awareness and funding.
1. Improve levels of awareness and communication on a cross-border basis through measures such as:
- Facilitation of improved graduate education linkages to enhance formal post-graduate training;
- Additional support for networking across research disciplines and between the academic and policy community on the island;
- Promotional tools, for example an all-island monthly Science, Technology & Innovation (STI) Digest; and
- An all-island Science Award (perhaps by extension of those operated by the Royal Irish Academy).
2. Develop support programmes to facilitate the following types of collaborative activity:
- All-Island Research Clusters: a small number of world-class multi-location centres based on the best available resources on the island and beyond;
- Bilateral Projects: centre-to-centre or institution-to-institution collaboration on a project-by-project basis; and
- Smaller Scale Collaborative Projects: short term technology transfer projects and knowledge exchange projects, particularly with industry. This could also allow researchers to use facilities in the other jurisdiction.
- 3. Examine appropriate funding models to support enduring cross-border collaboration. These could include the following:
- Dedicated all-island funding mechanism;
- Alignment of existing funding mechanisms to facilitate all-island participation; and
- Adaptation of existing funding supports.
Click here to download the report: Mapping Study of Research & Technological Development Centres on the island of Ireland