An Bord Snip: Research

One of the recommendations of An Bord Snip Nua is to transfer all research money from the departments and agencies to a single research body.  Besides the cost savings, I see three advantages:

1. Competition for research allocation between fields (as opposed to the current earmarking of research money for someone’s pet projects)

2. Academic quality control (captive agencies occassionally grant funding to researchers of low repute but the right political colour)

3. Streamlining of applications and administration (at present, research bodies need to keep track of the rules of a range of bureaucracies)

I see two disadvantages, however:

1. Disruption: Transfer of tasks between public policy inevitably leads to chaos, and no research funding will flow for a certain period. This may lead to the destruction of human capital — that is, the good researchers may leave the country, leaving the dross behind. Continuity is therefore a high priority.

2. Applied research has a lower status, and funding will be under additional pressure from blue-skies research. The agencies and department that lose their research grants should have a substantial say in the type of research to be funded (but not, of course, select the researchers).

6 thoughts on “An Bord Snip: Research”

  1. “the current earmarking of research money for someone’s pet projects”

    Who does the earmarking now? Perhaps it would be better to have accountability to the earmarker rather than “tendering” which if it was misspent would simply be written off.

  2. @Mark
    At present, every agency and every department seems to have its own little research fund. These funds are not always professionally administered, allocation decisions are sometimes murky, and oversight is impossible because there are so many tiny pots of money.

  3. Fair points Richard and I would not disagree with the merits of the proposal.

    I wonder also though how to build an effective central agency with the appropriate expertise to appropriately evaluate the tenders from such a diverse range of research topics. The balance of these panels would be important and no doubt contentious for those groups who fair poorly in the ‘tendering phase’. Not a major problem though.

    Also with regard to applied research, I believe that perhaps the opportunities and recogniised value of applied work will benefit from the current crises. In some ways funding of applied research can yield savings by displacing the need for other forms of outsourcing for government agencies.

    JAK

  4. 1. Disruption: Transfer of tasks between public policy inevitably leads to chaos, and no research funding will flow for a certain period. This may lead to the destruction of human capital — that is, the good researchers may leave the country, leaving the dross behind.

    Do you have any evidence that good and bad researchers have differing levels of motivation to seek out money? Just curious.

    And don’t get me started on judging that ‘good’ from ‘bad’. I saw, for example, the Libertas types mockig EU jellyfish research as ‘waste’. Of course, as with the volcano monitoring that their US Republican brothers mocked not so long ago and came to regret it (Google “Bobby Jindal Volcano”), this is actually a very valuable and urgent matter of research in the maritime field. So, who gets to decide- economists? Please.

  5. The proposal is very much along the lines of what had been recommended in 2006 (but which the government ignored).

    There is a very clear rationale for the streamlining, especially if one considers the past experience where given that R&D was the buzzword some departments put forward ‘wonderful’ proposals to capture some more cash some of which ultimately went on things they were doing anyway or things that had little or no return (Niskanen model).

    In any case the current practice could easily lead to a situation where a good project in one area is not funded because the money has run out while a relatively worse project does get funding because there is money left in that area. From that point of view it is better if all projects compete for funding from one source. Of course this leaves the issue of the appropriate selection criteria and who does the selecting but that has been an issue in the current system too so the board snip proposal would seem like a clear improvement to me.

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