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Science Foundation Ireland Partner Profile

Research centres will continue to operate for many years to come as many have funding that runs up to 2029

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has launched a call for expressions of interest for its new research centres programme. The enhanced programme builds on the success of the current model which has been running since 2012. SFI research centres are virtual networks of scientists and engineers in partnerships across academia and industry that address crucial research questions.

“The SFI research centres programme has transformed the research ecosystem in Ireland and enhanced Ireland’s international reputation,” says SFI head of research centres Kevin Walsh. “They have delivered research excellence in areas of national priority and are developing a pipeline of talented researchers with critical, in-demand skills. They have created an environment where multi-institutional and multidisciplinary collaborations are now the norm, and where indigenous and multinational industries can effectively join and collaborate with these academic networks.”

Over the past 11 years, SFI has provided a cumulative direct investment of €684 million in the 16 research centres while a further €638 million has been committed by industry partners. The centres have also secured approximately €404 million in EU and other non-exchequer non-commercial funding over the period.

The centres’ track record in collaborative research projects is no less impressive. As of the end of 2022, they had signed 1,426 collaborative research agreements with 688 companies — 366 of which are Irish companies.


Walsh points to a University of Limerick study led by Prof Helena Lenihan which analysed the value of the programme to industry partners. “The study found that companies that collaborate with SFI Research Centres tend to increase their investment in R&D, redirecting their spending towards more scientific types of research,” he says. “It also found that the programme has led to greater potential for breakthrough ideas and disruptive innovations, boosting the Irish economy, making it both more competitive and resilient.”

International success is also important. “We want Irish research success to be internationally visible,” says Walsh. “The research centres have been very successful in winning funding under the Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe programmes, among others. These programmes support collaboration with European partners and help the research centres to act as magnets to attract research talent from around the world, including students, postdoctoral researchers, and established researchers. A number of international star researchers have moved to Ireland in recent years because they want to be associated with SFI research centres. This has further enhanced Ireland’s reputation.”

SFI now wants to build on that success with an enhanced programme. “If you run something for more than 10 years and it has been extremely successful, it is appropriate to look at ways of improving it,” he explains. “We convened a panel of international experts to advise us on the future development of the research centres. We also consulted with other stakeholders including the Government, research partners and so on to get recommendations and advice on areas where we could enhance the programme.”

The feedback was very positive. “We heard how the programme is viewed as being very successful having had a valuable impact on the Irish research landscape. The new programme will build on that success and continue to support excellent research and deep collaborative partnerships with industry.”

A number of new facets have been introduced to the programme as a result. “The new programme will support collaboration with Government departments and public bodies. This will further enhance the centres’ positive impact on Irish society and the economy.”

Another new aspect is the introduction of a cohort approach to PhD training in the centres. “The new centres will embrace that,” says Walsh. “PhD students in the centres will become part of a cohort who will interact and network with one another. There will be structured training programmes to develop their technical and soft skills. This will better position them for their future careers in academia or industry or other research organisations.”

The other very important change he points to is a direct result of the imminent amalgamation of SFI and the Irish Research Council to form a single national research support agency. The remit of the new agency will be wider than that of SFI and will include arts, humanities, and social sciences research as well as the Stem areas.

“In some ways, the research centres have been in advance of the curve in this respect for some years and many of them have already had a focus on the social sciences,” he notes. “That’s really important in terms of societal impact. If you are going to solve societal challenges, you need to consider this broader approach. In this context, future programmes will be supporting interdisciplinary projects that include researchers from across these disciplines.”

Of course, the existing research centres will continue to do their work for many years to come. “Many of them have funding that runs until the end of 2025 or 2026 and even all the way to 2029. The existing portfolio will continue to perform excellent research.”