Our Ref: DFHE-CU-00579-2023
â€Žâ€ŽDr. Brian Hughes
â€Ž7th July 2023
â€ŽDear Dr. Hughes,
Thank you for your correspondence, on behalf of the Irish Association of Professional Historians, regarding the General Scheme of the Research and Innovation Bill 2023, which was approved by the Government on 5th April 2023.
As you will be aware, the main purpose of the legislation is to create a new statutory Research and Innovation Agency, which is a major enabler for Impact 2030: Irelandâ€™s Research and Innovation Strategy. In doing this, the legislation will provide for the amalgamation of the functions and activities of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Irish Research Council (IRC). It is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the Minister looks forward to receiving the Committeeâ€™s report on that process in the near future. In the meantime, the Minister and his officials continue to give careful consideration to the feedback the Department is receiving.
In response to the matters you have raised, the following assurances and clarifications may prove useful. Firstly, it is fully the intention that the new agency will distribute funding across all disciplines. Indeed, the legislation will place Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences research on a statutory footing for the first time as the IRC currently only exists as a division within the Higher Education Authority (HEA). This means that, despite being the largest competitive funder of research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as excellent research in other disciplines, the IRC does not have its own statutory basis and identity. This context also gives rise to what could be perceived as a weaker corporate governance basis and poses difficulties in terms of growth opportunities and resourcing, particularly considering the extensive revisions to the operation of the HEA as set out in recently passed legislation in that regard.
Therefore, the creation of the agency itself, which will include all disciplines in its statutory basis, embeds the notion of parity of esteem in the legislation. The establishment of the agency in statute also ensures parity of esteem for the IRCâ€™s critical mission of supporting researchers at all career stages.The agency will make competitive funding awards across all disciplines and of varying sizes in a way that complements the HEAâ€™s core investment in the higher education institutions. This is the optimum way of ensuring true parity of esteem for research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and significantly broadening the access to researchers in these areas to an improved range of research funding programmes.
Also with regard to the funding of PhD researchers,an independent review of current State supports for PhD researchers is ongoing, with a first report of same having been published on 26th June which focuses on the pressing challenges facing PhD researchers in terms of stipend levels and the particular issues being encountered by PhD researchers coming to Ireland from outside the EU or EEA. The Co-Chairs leading the review will now focus on how best to progress making recommendations on outstanding elements of the Terms of Reference of the review in their concluding report. The full report can be accessed here: https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/6ae92-minister-publishes-independent-report-on-supports-for-phd-researchers-in-ireland/
In terms of academic freedom, this concept is a core value of the Irish higher education sector, as reflected in the University Act, the Technological Universities Act and the Higher Education Authority Act. The Minister is fully committed to this principle. The agency will primarily fund researchers in the university and technological university sector, and, as mentioned, the legislation covering this sector already offers sound protection for the principle of academic freedom. Furthermore, anyone who is evaluating research proposals for the new agency will also be protected by academic freedom. For the avoidance of doubt, it should also be reiterated that neither the Minister nor Government will have any power to direct or interfere with the agencyâ€™s allocation of research funding awards.
With regard to the use of language and definitions in the General Scheme, it is worth noting that the Office of Parliamentary Counsel is now working on the formal drafting of the text of the Bill. The use of language and definitions throughout the legislation will be given careful thought as the formal drafting process progresses and feedback received from stakeholders in this regard will also be considered.
Furthermore, in forming a key part of Impact 2030, the legislation will fully support the objectives of that strategy, not only to promote and support excellence in research and innovation across all disciplines but, importantly, also spanning fundamental research to applied research activity. The new agency will seek to promote and support the contribution of all such research and innovation to Irelandâ€™s social, economic, cultural and environmental development and sustainability. It will also have a key role in driving interdisciplinary and challenge-based research, as well as supporting continued research and innovation excellence in all disciplines. This multidisciplinary research focus is increasingly important in tackling complex challenges facing society.
On the matter of diversity and inclusion, the General Scheme of the Bill sets out that one of the key functions of the agency will be to support equality, diversity and inclusion in research and innovation. The operationalisation of this will be given further consideration as part of the transitional programme of work that is being undertaken to establish the agency, alongside the legislative programme of work.
A number of the issues that you raise are appropriate for consideration also as part of the operational work required to establish the agency. This work is ongoing in tandem with the development of the legislation. It may be of interest to you to note that consultation with stakeholders, with particular regard to the research and innovation community, is being prepared in order to seek feedback on the operationalisation of the functions of the new agency. It is foreseen that this will be led by the CEO Designate of the agency, Professor Philip Nolan, who the Minister recently appointed to assist the Department in undertaking the significant transitional and operational programme of work required to establish the new agency. Details of the consultation will be widely advertised once it is ready for launch.
I hope this information proves useful and reassuring to you.
â€Ž Private Secretary to Minister Simon Harris T.D.,
â€Ž Minister for Further and Higher Education,
â€Ž Research, Innovation and Science