In recent years, the European Research Area has pursued the development of research frameworks which focus on the major challenges that face society.
In recent years, the European Research Area has pursued the development of research frameworks which focus on the major challenges that face society. In Ireland, Innovation 2020 (the national strategy for research and development, science and technology) has stressed the importance of research that seeks to address such societal challenges. Unsurprisingly, this challenge-based approach does not neatly align with disciplinary boundaries. The intended focus is on contributing to solving complex problems, rather than on adding to the knowledge base of a defined discipline. Interdisciplinary research enables a rich, nuanced understanding of human problems and facilitates the achievement of grand societal missions. Recognising this, the Irish Research Council has designed funding calls to support interdisciplinary collaboration that addresses national and global societal challenges (for example, the COALESCE Research Fund).
Ireland has the potential to develop a strong national track record on interdisciplinary research. It is important that Irish researchers grasp this opportunity, particularly at a time when there is an increasing emphasis nationally and internationally on the outcomes of research and the demonstration of impact.
Interdisciplinary research presents an opportunity for Irish researchers to develop greater capacity to leverage more funding from Horizon 2020 and the successor framework programme, Horizon Europe. Notably, interdisciplinary research projects can and should include collaboration with a wide variety of partners, such as SMEs, civic society groups or government. Interdisciplinary research also provides opportunities for early career researchers to benefit from new collaborative experiences that will help to develop their skills towards a diverse range of career paths.
Further, the experience of working with multiple disciplines enables researchers to reflect, in a constructive way, on how to surpass the limitations of their research domains. In this context, the fulfilment of broad missions has come to matter as much as the advancement of individual disciplines.
The higher-education context within which Irish research is conducted is changing. Specifically, in line with the recommendations of the National Strategy for Higher Education, a process of consolidation is ongoing whereby much of the Institutes of Technology sector is on a pathway to become Technological Universities. The prominence of research in the Technological Universities’ Act is noteworthy.
Future strategy must specifically consider how the new Technological Universities and the Institutes of Technology can fully contribute to the national innovation ecosystem. One of the means through which the Institutes can develop their research capacity is through a focus on interdisciplinary research. Developing capacity in this emerging area would place these institutions in a strong, central position both nationally and internationally.
However, collaboration across disciplines and sectors is not always simple or straightforward, and support is required in the form of specific funding measures.
The Irish Research Council is the national funder of research in all academic disciplines. In fulfilling its mission, the Council funds excellent research within and between all such disciplines. As a result, the Council is uniquely placed to fund interdisciplinary research that builds new links between research in STEM (Science, Technology,
Engineering and Maths) and AHSS (Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences). To date, total research investment by the Irish Research Council exceeds €500 million, funding over 8,000 awards, spanning STEM and beyond.
The Irish Research Council has recently launched the 2018 New Foundations and Creative Connections funding calls, simultaneously publishing a statement on STEAM (research combining knowledge from Science, Technology Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) and a synthesis report on interdisciplinary workshops funded under the previous iteration of the Creative Connections call. Researchers in Ireland’s higher education institutions, including the Institutes of Technology, are strongly encouraged to apply.
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