Institute of Physics states the case for sustained investment in physics

16 February 2016

The Institute of Physics in Ireland (IOPI) has called on all political parties to ensure that sustained investment in physics at all levels is part of their proposed programme for government.

Election

Stating their case, IOPI has highlighted the importance of physics to Ireland:

  • Physics-based industries in Ireland provide over 86,000 jobs and have a gross value added to the economy of €7.4 billion annually.
  • Physics-skilled workers such as software developers, energy technicians and medical device researchers have helped to drive the Irish economy forward.
  • Businesses in areas such as IT services, renewable energy and medical instrumentation, all of which rely on a strong physics research base, attract significant inward investment.
  • Since 2008/9, there has been a 67% rise in students entering physics undergraduate courses and a more modest increase of just over 8% at Leaving Certificate as greater numbers of Irish students realise the advantage that physics qualifications offer

However:

  • A fall in investment in higher education of €500 million since 2008 has led to funding per student falling by 22%, worsening staff:student ratios, cramped learning environments and unsustainable conditions for academic staff. 
  • Basic research helps to inform and underpin many areas of applied research. Funding for applied research is continually being prioritised over basic research which leaves the risk of stunting future economic growth by missing out on opportunities that emerging global technology markets present.
  • Around a quarter of second level schools do not offer physics at leaving certificate level, barring the development of many young physicists

Dr Mark Lang, Chairperson of the Institute of Physics in Ireland, said: “Because of the importance of physics to the Irish economy, it is vital that Irish politicians address some of the major challenges that are being faced by all involved in Irish physics.

“The problems in our schools and universities need to be addressed. We risk denying a generation the opportunity of developing skills they will need to drive economic growth in Ireland and, more immediately, we create the very real prospect of a brain drain as academics choose to leave the country or the profession because of the poor working conditions.

“We know that some of our concerns are already being addressed – such as the new fund for basic research which is due to be announced as part of Innovation 2020 – but we need our politicians to address this with more urgency and, as such, we’d like politicians to commit to our four point manifesto.”

The four points to commit to:

  1. Address the gap in access to physics in schools in Ireland
  2. Provide additional funding for STEM subjects at universities and institutes of technology so that student:staff ratios are brought back to an effective level
  3. Balance science funding to ensure that the proportion of funds that go to basic research is enough to ensure its future sustainability and productivity
  4. Review the support available to promote collaboration between SMEs and the university sector and exploring new avenues to encourage collaboration and investment in R&D


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