Page content

Northern Ireland Could Fall Behind In Innovation - Ulster Expert

18 October 2012

NorthernIreland needs to get rid of red tape and invest in research and developmentas the economy tries to compete in an increasingly tough international business arena, a leading University of Ulster academic has claimed.

Director of the Engineering Research Institute, Professor James McLaughlin told a meeting of key influencers at Stormont this week, that thereweresome excellent pockets of activities in local universities, the NorthernIreland ScienceParkand throughout Northern Ireland.

However, he told an audience of MLAs, academics, investors and public administrators thatNorthern Ireland’s innovation community was operating below par, citing the following examples:

* Levels of research and development investmentinto universities and business areamong the lowest in the UK and although improvingwithin companies, it is focused more in the larger, rather than SME based companies.

* Northern Ireland needs thousands more knowledge economy workers when compared and benchmarked against international regions such as San Diego.

* The province's normalised annual patent applications are just a quarter of the number in the Republic of Ireland.

* There is a growing PhD shortfall in our universitiesin comparison to what is required to underpin our ambitions.

* The level of businessstart-ups and spin-outsin NI is among the lowest in the UK.

“This isn't the time for complacency and bureaucratic obstacles,” Professor McLaughlin insisted.

“Innovationis the lifeblood of our economy, and the key to success in international business.We’ve fallen well behind international norms – and we need to act quickly before things get worse.”

Professor McLaughlin also hit out at what he called ‘public sector bureaucratic barriers’andrisk-aversion as one of the key factors hindering the transfer of innovative ideas into the commercial world.

Smart government funding, he argued, is thekeyto many successful innovation regions and it is a reality that the commercial world requires this underpinning to fully realise innovation goals and compete.

Professor McLaughlin, aleading international scientist and entrepreneur in the field of healthcare sensor technology, was speaking at a Science & Stormont event organised in the Assembly by the Royal Society of Chemistry and sponsored by Basil McCrea MLA.

Media enquiries:

Audrey Watson

Media & Corporate Relations

University of Ulster

Tel: 028 90366386