Ireland is to shed nearly 1000 Ph.D. and postdoctoral posts in 2010 and 2011 as a result of severe government budget cuts. This runs counter to the government's stated policy of doubling the number of people who have Ph.D.s. Cuts in funding to Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the public body responsible for investment in scientific and engineering research, has forced it to reduce the numbers of doctoral and postdoc researchers it supports by 950 by the end of next year.
"This will hit the emerging talent the hardest," says a leading scientist who did not wish to be named. "The problem is that we have a historically very narrow and small research community. Efforts were made to improve that in the last couple of years. However, the new young PIs [primary investigators], or new team leaders, don't yet have the diverse sources of income. Many of these rely on SFI but will be idle over the next 2 years—some will never recover."
There are currently about 900 Ph.D. candidates in the Republic of Ireland. The government's goal is to reach 1200, which is a doubling of the 600 Ph.D.s in place when the policy was first formulated about 4 years ago. However, that goal looks a long way off, given that SFI figures also show that there will be no new funding contracts approved this year, nor will existing contracts be renewed. The concern must be that Ph.D. numbers could fall rather than rise.
Martin Hynes, director of the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology, a body that funds postgraduate students in Ireland, admits the situation is "challenging." He adds: "The concern is what happens when the number of funded places drops by around 30%? What happens to that capacity? Do people opt to self-fund? Can the faculties fund for a year until the PRTLI [Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions—another public-funding body] resources come in? There are quite a few unknowns around that."