IOP launches reports to show physics-based industries are pivotal in Ireland and Scotland

16 January 2017

An IOP report on the importance of physics-based businesses to the Irish economy was launched at the Royal Dublin Society on 12 January, with a comparable report on the Scottish economy being launched by the IOP on 16 January.

IOP launches reports to show physics-based industries are pivotal in Ireland and Scotland
©Bryan James Brophy

Ireland’s minister of state for training, skills and innovation, John Halligan, spoke at the launch event in Dublin. Noting that physics-based businesses make a huge contribution to the Irish economy, with a turnover of nearly €50 bn, he said Ireland should be aiming to invest up to 2.7% of GDP in R&D to stimulate even more economic growth.

He also highlighted the importance of physics education in schools for maintaining this success in the future. “Many connected factors are at play if we are to ensure physics-based industries have sufficient resources,” he said. “Currently a quarter of our second-level students do not offer physics at Leaving Certificate and this is something that needs to be targeted. It is crucial that interested students have access to teachers qualified to teach physics.”

IOP launches reports to show physics-based industries are pivotal in Ireland and Scotland
©Bryan James Brophy

At the launch, the IOP’s chief executive, Professor Paul Hardaker, noted that physics-based businesses in Ireland are more productive than their competitors across Europe. Commenting on the IOP’s report, The role of physics in supporting economic growth and national productivity in Ireland, he said: “Ireland has a strong tradition in world-class physics and this report shows the value of that to Ireland’s economy, business and jobs.”

Among the figures highlighted in the report are that physics-based industries directly employ 160,000 people in Ireland, or 8.6% of the workforce, and indirectly generate a further 127,600 jobs. Physics-based sectors contribute €23.3 bn in gross value added (GVA) to the Irish economy, or more than a quarter of Ireland’s total GVA, and when indirect effects are taken into account, this amounts to €38.2 bn.

The publication, commissioned by the IOP from the Centre for Economic and Business Research, defines a physics-based industry as one in which the use of physics, through technologies and expertise, is critical to its existence.

Those taking part in the launch included the IOP’s president, Professor Roy Sambles. In the foreword to the report, the chair of the IOP in Ireland, Dr Mark Lang noted: “The strength of physics-based business in Ireland is built on past investment in cutting-edge physics. If Ireland wants to have a high technology, high productivity, high prosperity economy for the future then it must continue to invest in physics today.”

The IOP launched a parallel report on 16 January on physics in the Scottish economy, The role of physics in supporting economic growth and national productivity in Scotland, which was the focus of an evening hosted by Iain Gray MSP at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on 18 January.

IOP launches reports to show physics-based industries are pivotal in Ireland and Scotland

Speakers at the event, “Physics, the key to a thriving Scottish economy” included Professor Sheila Rowan, chief scientific adviser for Scotland and Professor Martin Dawson, director of Fraunhofer UK. They were joined in a panel debate by MSPs Maree Todd, Tavish Scott and Iain Gray.

The report shows that 199,000 people are directly employed in physics-based businesses in Scotland, representing 7.9% of the workforce, and that the sector indirectly generates a further 323,000 jobs. Physics-based industries in Scotland generate £43.5 bn in turnover, which rises to £94.6 bn when indirect effects are considered.

It also shows that in 2013 the GVA of physics-based industries in Scotland was £15bn, which is 12.1% of the GVA generated by the whole Scottish business economy. When indirect effects are taken into account, this rises to £31.6 bn.

In a foreword to the report, the chair of the IOP in Scotland, Professor Martin Hendry, commented: “In an uncertain economic climate, it is more important than ever for Scotland to focus efforts on areas that can be relied upon to deliver results.

IOP launches reports to show physics-based industries are pivotal in Ireland and Scotland

“Scotland has long punched above its weight when it comes to physics: it is home to many internationally-leading researchers and plays key roles in a number of major international collaborations, and it serves as a base for numerous businesses that have built significant success on physics knowledge and technologies.”

Commenting on the report, Hardaker said: “Last week Barack Obama, like many of our leaders from politics and economics, made a speech about how important science is to creating jobs, strengthening economies and improving health and well-being. Scotland is no exception, and this is built on a long and distinguished tradition in world-leading physics research in universities and businesses.

“For me this report highlights both the value of investing in that research and innovation base and how important it is to make sure we inspire and nurture the next generation of physicists who are studying in our schools and colleges.”