Posted tagged ‘‘Innovation Alliance’’

Steady, lads!

May 15, 2010

Of course I would not wish to be in any way dismissive of the ‘Innovation Alliance’ established by Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin, but if I had the opportunity I might very gently advise them to turn down the hyperbole just a notch.

This week the online publication Silicon Republic reported that TCD and UCD had invited Stanford University President, John Hennessy, to act as an international adviser to their alliance. So far so good. Dr Hennessy is an academic and entrepreneur of some note, and his participation will enhance what the Southside Dublin colleges are doing. However the piece also describes the ‘Innovation Alliance’ as an initiative ‘which if successful, could generate 40,000 research jobs.’ I confess I find this an alarming claim. At the time of the alliance’s establishment in 2009, the partners were claiming they would create up to 30,000 jobs. Back then most commentators, while welcoming the overall initiative, expressed strong scepticism about the job creation claim, which many would have regarded as something of an exaggeration, by an order of magnitude. But this now appears to have risen by 33 per cent; not only that, these are now ‘research jobs’.

It should be clear that there are absolutely no circumstances in which the two colleges will create research jobs in such numbers, or anything even remotely resembling them. Bear in mind that the two colleges currently employ perhaps 1,000 researchers between them; so now they are claiming that they can increase this number by 4,000 per cent through the work of the alliance. It really doesn’t help to be putting such figures about, not least because it creates a completely false impression as to the impact of research. The benefit of cutting edge research and its commercialisation doesn’t lie in direct job creation, but rather in the establishment of an attractive environment for high value industry investment. But politicians obsess about jobs, often without understanding how job creation happens, and we shouldn’t encourage them by giving them false ideas about these processes.

The other little thing I noticed – though I can see this might not have come from the two colleges – is that the article describes the ‘Innovation Alliance’ as the ‘IFSC of R&D’. The IFSC is the International Financial Services Centre, and its establishment as a global finance hub in the Dublin docks helped to transform the Irish economy in the late 1980s and the 1990s. It is entirely possible that the TCD/UCD alliance will have a major and beneficial impact on the wider R&D scene, but they are certainly not alone in this field, and this label again strongly over-eggs the pudding.

I suppose that what I am arguing is that the two colleges need to focus much more on quietly bringing forward actual R&D successes at this stage of their alliance, rather than trawling the superlatives dictionary in public announcements. I think that other universities, many of them working on their own alliances, are keen to be cooperative and supportive, but would find that easier to do if it didn’t look as if TCD and UCD were trying to claim all the territory for themselves. I would certainly recognise the value of the TCD/UCD alliance, but it is not the only game in town. Let us maximise the potential in what we all do and foster a climate of collaboration as we do so.


Counting the jobs

March 10, 2010

Today’s Irish Times has given us a preview of the Innovation Taskforce report due to be launched tomorrow. There is some interesting stuff in it going by the newspaper piece, and I shall be at the launch and will report and assess afterwards.

However the Irish Times headline, which has the report suggesting that 120,000 new jobs can be created if we seriously become an innovation centre, prompts me to reflect on how we now make the connection between what is described as ‘innovation’ (which has become over-used as a term and as such has been deprived of much of its meaning) and job creation. Indeed, we should probably be hesitant about referring to job ‘creation’ at all, as it conjures up images of a planned economy based around production, rather than an economy based around trade and consumption. Whatever we may feel about this ideologically – and I may confess to just an occasional twinge of nostalgia for a more employment-focused strategy – in reality ‘job creation’ is no longer an option that is open to us if we want to remain (or become) solvent as a country. What we can, and should, do however is to create conditions in which jobs are likely to emerge, whether in old-style employment or in self-employment; and to create the conditions in which such economic activity confers acceptable conditions and enables attractive lifestyles for people in general.

That is why, I believe, we need to be careful about promising to ‘create’ jobs, partly because it distorts the focus of what we must do, and partly because it is setting ourselves up for a fall. So for example when the TCD-UCD ‘Innovation Alliance’, which prompted the establishment of the Taskforce, promised to create 30,000 jobs, this was for me an unwise element in what was otherwise a good idea. We need to find a mindset in which ‘innovation’ is pursued as a stimulus to trade and business – as well as improvements in public services and social initiative – rather than as a framework for jobs. The latter are much more likely to emerge if we let go of such old-fashioned concepts.

I say this in part because I believe that generating economic activity has as its main purpose the facilitation of employment and work for as many as possible; it is why we do it. But at this stage of our development this means creating the right conditions in which individuals and organizations (including the state where appropriate) make large and small investments, which in turn will allow the greatest number of people to escape from economic inactivity and poverty. But if we start by counting the jobs, we may end up not counting very many.

The innovation agenda: the Taskforce report

March 5, 2010

The government has just indicated that the report of the Innovation Taskforce will be launched next Thursday, March 11. For those who may not be immediately familiar with this initiative, the Innovation Taskforce was set up by the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen TD, in July 2009. It had been announced by the government at the time of the launch of the TCD/UCD ‘Innovation Alliance’ almost exactly a year ago in March 2009, and indeed one of its terms of reference was to consider policy measures to support this alliance. Furthermore, the Provost of TCD and the President of UCD are members of the Taskforce.

A total of 113 persons or organisations made submissions to the Taskforce, and these can be viewed here.

A comment on the Taskforce report will appear on this blog as soon as the report is published next week. The key issues we should be looking for in the report might include how we are to ensure that the Lisbon targets for R&D expenditure will be met, how the commercialisation of academic research can be encouraged without undermining scholarship, how industry-university partnerships can be secured, and how intellectual property should be protected or exploited.

It is hard to know what to expect from this initiative. The Taskforce had originally been expected to report before the end of 2009. In the meantime, support for an innovation agenda has been compromised by the increasing pace of budget cuts, which have now also had a significant effect on research funding. We shall need to see whether the launch of the report might mark the beginning of a process to arrest this disinvestment in the one activity that will be needed to pull us out of recession. More on this next week.

Galway and Limerick universities form an alliance

February 16, 2010

On Thursday of this week NUI Galway and the University of Limerick will, according to the invitation to the event, launch ‘a major strategic alliance’.  The news of this proposed new partnership was made public yesterday by RTE in a report on its website and in an item on the television news. University presidents from other institutions had been alerted to this development a little while ago, but so far we do not know the exact nature of the alliance. In the RTE report it is said that the two universities want to ‘pool resources’ and develop a ‘combined strategy’ in order to create ‘centres of world class excellence’.

It is highly likely that the Irish higher education system will, over the period ahead, see a ‘clustering’ of institutional partnerships. First of these was the TCD-UCD ‘Innovation Alliance’ last year, and it is known that other inter-institutional talks (also including DCU) are under way. What is perhaps less clear is how the sector as a whole will operate, and the extent to which sector-wide initiatives can be pursued alongside the plans of specific strategic partnerships.

I look forward to hearing more about the NUI Galway/Limerick plan to be launched on Thursday, and I wish them well.