Research and jobs

Conor Lenihan, Ireland’s Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, was recently reported as explaining the link between the funding of university research and job creation.

I confess I am always nervous whenever a politician links research expenditure with job creation. It is not that there isn’t a connection, but rather the connection is not as direct as most politicians would like. If you give a government grant to a company to create 1,000 jobs, you get 1,000 jobs (at least for a while). If you give the same amount to a university research team, you’ll probably get around 12 jobs. This disturbs some politicians, who feel that they cannot sell this expenditure to their voters; and so the politicians sometimes move to exaggerate the jobs impact – and as we have seen, sometimes universities themselves play along with that.

Perhaps the most useful approach in all of this would be to stop talking about job ‘creation’ more generally. Jobs become available and are sustained on the back of viable economic activity, and this is where the emphasis must lie. Public money increasingly cannot ‘create’ jobs at all, but it can create an environment in which employment develops. And research is perhaps the most effective way of achieving this in an advanced economy.

In fact the Minister’s statement recognised some of these nuances, but that may be lost in the overall focus on the impact on jobs. It may be counter-productive to try to list the jobs that have been ‘created’ or facilitated by major research funding. It is better to talk about Ireland’s potential to be a recognised home for high value knowledge in areas that are key to economic and social development. That’s where the future lies.

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3 Comments on “Research and jobs”


  1. The problem is that we want in Ireland a prosperous industrial (in the widest possible sense of that word) society and we want it quickly. We want to skip all the gradual thoughtful stuff and go straight to prosperity. We want our tiger back but we refuse to recognise that the tiger‘s funeral occurred long before the height of the property madness.

    The only thing that can be done about mass unemployment in the short term is Keynesian investment.

    An industrial policy is a different matter altogether. It will require thought. A current alternative to thought is a childlike belief that salvation will be found in good ideas. (“If only we had enough small firms with enough ideas, we’d be grand!” “We must vote for the party with the best ideas!” “We must put our differences aside and pool our ideas!”) Of course good ideas are vital but national development cannot become Dragons’ Den! Making a simple connection between research and later job creation is plain daft but it is part of the belief that research produces “ideas”.

  2. kevin denny Says:

    It is not the job of universities to create jobs. In fact its not the job of businesses to create jobs either. They create customers and the jobs follow. But it is hard to blame politicians for this category error, particularly in the present circumstances. Universities, our dear leaders in particular, need to be clear about what we can and cannot do.


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