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    PhD emigration a reason to cut R&D spending?

    By Noreen Bowden | July 21, 2009

    The McCarthy Report, also known as An Bord Snip, has questioned the benefits of relying on the strategy of spending on research and development as an engine to drive economic growth. One of the reasons it suggests cutting back on R&D spending is the prospect of newly-minted PhDs emigrating.

    It questions spending on “Government Budget Outlays and Appropriations for Research and Development” for the following:

    • Real returns on investment – There is little evidence that investing in science and technology has had a powerful impact on economic activity
    • Rationalisation of funding structures – there are a large number of supports targeting similar activities
    • Reducing dependence on Exchequer funding – Exchequer funding has grown as a proportion of gross expenditure on R&D in recent years, suggesting displacement of private business and philanthropic funding by public funding.
    • Output of PhDs – here the report says:

    In the absence of a clear business need for the doubling of PhDs currently being funded, the Group is concerned that graduates will be underemployed or forced to emigrate. Indeed some empirical evidence suggests that 20% of new doctorate holders find employment overseas, and of those who remain in Ireland, most find employment in the public rather than the private sector.

    This sounds like a short-term approach, focusing as it does on a notion of brain drain. In recent years, it’s evident that the model of brain circulation is a more realistic one for Ireland: an increasing number of initiatives are demonstrating that highly talented individuals can continue to play a role in Ireland’s economic development, no matter where they live.

    The Irish Technology Leadership Group, in which top Silicon-Valley-based executives are partnering, mentoring, and providing access to investors is only one example of the way in which Ireland’s global high achievers can put their talents to use in Ireland, even when they live abroad.

    Of course, some of Ireland’s most talented students would undoubtedly seek PhD funding in other countries if they cannot access it at home. It’s an interesting question as to whether this would affect an individual’s likelihood of participating in diaspora-led initiatives aimed at helping Ireland.

    Related websites:

    Bord Snip: “Return on science investment not very compelling”

    McCarthy Report

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