Tag Archives: research

What is the impact of publicly funded science research?

Well, we dont know… BUT we are going to try to shed some light on it.

A debate, a colloquium, a discussion. A group of local and international analysts, funders and policymakers will discuss this on 13 November 2015, RCPI Dublin.

Details here:  Open Policy Debate on Measuring Impact Programme Outline.

Booking (free) here:

Marie Curie Fellowships – Expressions of Interest sought

So, I am, along with some colleagues, interested in taking on some postdoc fellows under the Marie Curie programme.

One would be on a project on the the global determinants of metal and other critical mineral production. The main thrust is to examine the relationship between mineral production costs and mineral prices, investigating which leads which and in what regard.

The second is to address the matter of higher education institutions within the framework of local regional development objectives of maximizing employment, output and FDI investment potential as part of a suite of supply-side policies. The aim is for the candidate to work towards an analysis of the local Irish context and subsequently aim to make a series of comparisons with other similar regions of the European Union.

Candidates should have a phd in economics, with ag/resource economics a boon for the first and economic geography/regional studies for the second.

If you are possibly interested, let me know by email, with a compresensive CV, letter of interest, and a sample of recent research.

Predatory and Pay for Publish journals and Irish Academia.

Being the editor of the journal gives you a perspective on the publishing process that is not available to the majority of academic researchers. One of the issues that strikes you is that there is an enormous volume of material seeking a home. Into this gap have come open access journals, new journals from existing publishers, but also a host of predatory journals. Unfortunately, some Irish academics are either falling prey or worse are deliberately seeking out publication opportunities in these predatory journals.

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Knowledge Transfer Ireland – Partial, Error ridden and Naïve


Knowledge is only useful if people know it exists. So it is great to see Knowledge Transfer Ireland established, to start to allow organizations and individuals to seek out the knowledge in Irish third level institutions.

At least , it would be if it worked. . It doesnt

Look first at economics. Inputting “economics”  we see on the front page (how is this ranked? Is it random? ) my good self and we also see Richard J Tol as economics in TCD. I am in the Business school and work in Finance. He is in Sussex, and has been for some considerable time.

I apparently have 31 publications (an undercount by at least an order of three if we look at just peer reviewed publications and by seven fold if we look at all publications).  If we look at the TCD research system record we see nearly all my publications. If we look at google scholar, to which the KTI system neatly provides a link we see a pretty full record again.  The system misclassifies my research interest,  and it misses most of my research output. This alone tells me, straight out the box, that KTI is next to useless.

Looking at the TCD Economics profile of experts, again it’s a mess. It contains (some) of the people who actually work there; it also contains people who work in the Central Bank, a whole bunch of ESRI folk, a smattering of people in TCD in areas as disparate as law, sociology, business, sports science….

A quick glance at the other universities shows similar problems.

It proudly states that it “ automatically builds expert profiles from publication output, patent submissions and funding attainment. .Aficionado is unique in that it never asks an expert to create or maintain a profile on our system.“ and that’s a problem. If they are going to just trawl open access archives (as they seem to do) then they cannot present that as remotely like a full picture of any research endeavour. It seems that they have, as so often in Ireland, tried to do it on the cheap. Bibliometric databases abound and a decent system would use all of them, firewalled and open, to build a picture. Not here.  Beyond that the data are presented in a whizzbang graphics rich mode that is devoid of any hint of bibliometric or other analysis. Every paper is the same as every other. A raw paper count is produced but there is no sense of quality in any sense.


This portal may well be an accurate representation of the STEM areas researchers and research profile. The thrust of the thing seems to be towards that area – leaving aside the fact that the centers of global excellence in Irish universities is in Arts, Humanities and Social Studies –  but the data seem to me to be so patchy, poorly presented and flawed as to make it useless.  If it is merely meant to be for STEM patentable  right-now commercial research then say so. We know that AHSS research is not valued, so lets be upfront.  This exercise has been supported by the taxpayer via Enterprise Ireland, launched by the government via Richard Bruton and its shoddy.



What good is a university education?

What good is a university? Economists think a lot about goods, and the classifications of them can shed some light on the present state of Irish higher education.

We can think about goods in several ways.  All are useful.

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Can we really measure research supervisory quality?

Research metrics are fraught with danger. Usually they are dangerous when they are abused. We can measure the citation history of a paper but that tells us little beyond its citation history. We can measure raw output but that tells us simply how busy someone is. We can measure lots of things but they are all limited in some way. Measurement limitation does not prevent university administration from seizing on metrics and using them appallingly. I recently was informed of an Irish academic unit where papers published in journals that are not in the ISI Web of Science are not allowed to be used as part of any promotion or other college activity. They are un-papers. This is stark raving lunacy, but it shows how dangerous a simple metric can be in the hands of the ignorant.

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Universities, Business and the Public Good

This is a version of an opinion piece published in the Irish Independent 19 December, co-authored with Ronaldo Munck

“Clearly, the education system fulfils a vital role in society that extends well beyond the utilitarian one of satisfying enterprise’s needs for skills or research. Universities are obviously a vital public good, making a crucial contribution to the intellectual, cultural, social and economic well-being of the country…we should not view the requirement for workplace skills and the cultivation of the intellect as some zero sum game”.

This statement comes not from any starry-eyed academic in an ivory tower, nor even from the recently formed campaign to defend the Irish University from ‘commercialisation’ (http://defendtheuniversity.ie). Rather, this stirring call comes from IBEC, specifically Tony Donoghue IBEC’S Head of Education and Innovation Policy at a conference held at DCU a couple of years ago.  Yet the dominant discourse in the media, business circles and most university administrations is for the need for universities to orient more or less exclusively to ‘business needs’. This elides into the need for a more ‘enterprising’ university. Both demonstrate an (wilful?) ignorance of what it is a university does and can do. It is reductionist in the extreme, seeing the sector as having only one role – to provide training for the de jure demands of the business sector that shouts loudest.

What lies behind this new orthodoxy which no longer sees the university as a public good?  In what ways can and should universities be responsive to business needs? We must first distinguish between diverse domains; such as applied research in advanced technologies, upskilling, student placements and so on as they are all very different.

Universities and businesses occupy particular spaces within society. Both, we suggest, would be seen in a positive light were they to be seen as working for the betterment of society at large. Few working at universities would have a problem with a whole range of interactions with business.  It is a well-established practice to have placements in ‘industry’ whether for business studies students, or those in engineering or computing. Research collaboration with industry, for example, in the biomedical area might make sense so long as full economic costing was applied. Engagement in these direct senses with industry in the arts and humanities may be more distant, but that does not make these areas of study are less valuable to society. Recent UK research suggests that three years out more Social Science and Humanities graduates are in paid employment than their STEM compatriots.

Most people at universities would like to be seen as ‘enterprising’ but that does not mean we are all budding entrepreneurs.  Innovation and entrepreneurship is something we are, or are supposed to be, all in favour of fostering.  But there is a lamentable lack of clarity on what this means in practice. Universities are expected to foster and support innovation and enterprise with time, money and materials, diverting these from existing teaching activities already under funding and staffing pressure.  It is as though through a sleight of hand research became innovation, then innovation became entrepreneurship, and now entrepreneurship becomes working for the private sector.

Universities are complex organizations. Aiming them at the demands of the market alone suggests a misconception that they are, in essence, aimed at private gains by individual graduates and companies. But the reality is that university education creates both a public and a private good. University education is complex. It has boundaries on how many can be admitted at any given time and thus the provision of education services is excludable. Within these boundaries, however, it is mostly non-rivalrous, in that each student can obtain their education without detriment to others gaining theirs. However, the outcomes of a university education, such as a more skilled workforce, and a more literate and critically engaged population are closer to public goods. Until we have a public debate on how to deal with these two elements at the same time we will continue to flail around. One thing we know from decades of economics is that it is not possible to regulate, manage and evaluate goods which are of different types as though they were the same. That is what some are trying to do in higher education and it is bound to fail if it does recognise the complexity of the business we are in.

There are, thus, clear limits to what universities can, or should, offer the business world.  Educators not entrepreneurs have to write the syllabus. Business persons have a role, via their membership of society, but no more and no less than artists or the socially excluded.  Universities cannot offer cheap intellectual labour paid by public funding to build private profit margins.  They cannot just create entrepreneurs even though they might, of course, provide skills and techniques for successfully driving a business. Indeed the skills needed to manage businesses are those that a well-funded, well- managed, well- structured university would provide to all students – perseverance, analytical capacity, resilience and inquisitiveness. Students in modern universities develop these and more, such as skills on knowledge acquisition, in information processing and interpersonal skills.  It is up to business to provide the specialist training it requires after that.  In the public or voluntary sectors other specific skills will be learnt on the job as well as building on some basics gained in education.

Universities must serve society as a whole and not a particular sector.  Chasing what may be myopic sector specific skill shortages in private enterprise with public money is not education  Nor is engaging in what may be a Faustian pact whereby universities, producing public goods, become dominated by private interests through funding lines emergent from private enterprise due to a fall-off in public investment. A long term view would lead us to more structured engagement between universities and the business world which also acknowledges, celebrates and respects the different purposes of both.

Universities are not business incubators and they are not beacons of innovation.  They simply do not have the capacity to deliver an either front.  But then we need to ask what it is that universities provide if they do not simply exist to fulfil business needs.  Put simply, for a business the much talked about bottom-line is profit.  Yet today it is widely accepted that there is a triple bottom line: economic, social and environmental.  Universities necessarily take the long view (they have been around for quite a while) and need to think in terms of social sustainability and not just the annual balance sheet.  Business needs are part of that calculation but there are other interests at play.  Civil society embraces not just business but also a whole range of community, cultural and social interest groups.  For example universities could engage in a debate around Ireland’s national development prospects in which business would play a key role but other social interests would also need to be involved.  Universities best serve their purpose- and also business needs- if they have a strong sense of independent thinking and promote healthy debate on key issues of the day.