It’s the knowledge economy, stupid

How many Leaving Certs students did you know this year? And of those, how many chose a science or engineering course? There has been a 25 percent increase in the number of applicants to higher-level science courses, as students flock to what seems like a safe bet and a certain job.

But just how wrong are they? It seems that, even before they try, many are doomed to failure – nightmarish estimations of first year failure rates of 39 percent are an unfortunate reality. Sorry, Junior Freshmen, but that’s how it is.

 And even for those who persevere, it seems the future might not be as rosy as your guidance counsellor would have had you believe. Despite much-feted talk of Ireland’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (SSTI) investment plans, the now-infamous Bord Snip recommends slashing the amount spent in the area of science and technology by at least €27.3 million.

And amidst the recession that has gripped the country it seems the dreaded Brain Drain might once again become a reality.

But why should we encourage our boffins to stay their difficult course? Do we really need the men and women in white coats with funnily-shaped glassware and even funnier social skills to save us from our economic slump?

In my naturally wholly unbiased opinion, the answer is yes. For the entire duration of the spectacular and gigantic saga of our banks’ fall from grace, our science and technology sector has not only been steady, but has actually been storming ahead.

True, some jobs were lost in manufacturing sections of TEVA and Intel, but in the last few months, there have also been 95 jobs created in Galway by Lumension and the Netezza Corporation of Massachusetts, 250 jobs created by Sim2Learn, 300 jobs created by InTune, and 160 jobs created in Carlow by Sigma. Sigma also contributed to the economy with a hefty €20 million investement.

With Helsinn Birex investing another €13 million in Dublin, and US insurance firm Unum setting up a software servicing centre, that’s a total of 1005 jobs created. All of these jobs were made possible by a highly technically educated workforce; by those boffins who slaved away in the Hamilton ends of their respective universities.

The future for research funding in many countries looks grim, none moreso than in Britan,  where academics are rushing their grants proposals in before the Conservatives cut spending after the next general election.

This is now Ireland’s chance to attract bright minds from all over the globe and build a world industry of innovation and ingenuity. It’s the knowledge economy, stupid.