With Trinity set to become the highest ranked English-speaking university in the EU following the UK’s decision to leave the union, College has established a new taskforce to ensure that Trinity is prepared for the challenges and opportunities of Brexit.
The new committee, which is made up of some of the most senior staff in Trinity, including Provost Patrick Prendergast, was established only two months ago, as UK’s exit from the EU draws nearer.
The nine-person committee, which includes the Dean of Research, John Boland, and Chief Innovation and Enterprise Officer, Dr Diarmuid O’Brien, will be charged with navigating the coming months as UK’s relationship with Ireland and the EU is renegotiated.
The committee has drawn a membership from a range of backgrounds in College, including Prof Brian Lucey, from Trinity Business School and Juliette Hussey, Vice-President for Global Relations. Doris Alexander, from Trinity’s Research Development Office, has also been brought on to the committee, while David O’Shea, the College’s Director of Financial Services, and the Director of the Provost’s Office, Jennifer Taaffe are also on the committee.
The group will be focusing on four areas – students, partnerships, public affairs and research – as well as preparing for the various possible effects of UK’s exit from the EU, depending on whether the country has a “hard” or “soft” Brexit.
Speaking to The University Times, Trinity’s Director of Public Affairs and Communications, Tom Molloy, who is also a member of the committee, said: “We have students from every part of the world, we have staff from every part of the world, our students go out into the world, our staff go out into the world, so it’s a fair bet that Brexit is going to have a very big effect on the country, it’s going to have a very big effect on the economy, and it’s going to have a very big effect on Trinity and the other universities.”
Molloy also pointed to the opportunities Brexit might present for Trinity. “Very good lecturers, very good professors, who work in the UK at present, whether they’re British or European Union citizens, whether they’re from further afield, are looking around at the moment and thinking about going elsewhere. There’s every reason to think we could get some excellent people to join Trinity”, he said. Molloy confirmed that the committee will be considering how best to target and attract the best researchers and professors in the future.
The group will also be lobbying the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, on the best approach to take to UK’s exit. “When the Minister for Education goes to Brussels, he will be negotiating and he will have to think what is important for Ireland here, and it’s good for him to know the wishes and the views of the universities”, Molloy said.
Higher education, an area little discussed during the referendum on UK’s membership of the EU, has come under a sharper focus since the vote. Numerous university leaders in the UK have warned of the dangers of the country leaving the EU, especially in lost research opportunities. Speaking to The University Times last August, the Vice-Chancellor of Ulster University, Prof Paddy Nixon, warned of the “difficult” time ahead for the UK and Northern Ireland in the wake of Brexit. Trinity has made great efforts in recent years to attract students from Northern Ireland, and last year saw a 23 per cent increase in applications, with over 900 students applying to study in Trinity through the college’s feasibility study. Molloy warned that Brexit could threaten Trinity’s ambition to be a university for the whole island. “It’s kind of core to how Trinity sees itself, that it’s an all-Ireland university that draws its students from every county. And it’s kind of awkward then if six of those counties disappear behind a border”, he said.
The issue of whether British and Northern Irish students would be forced to pay significantly higher non-EU fees has also been discussed at length since the referendum. On the question of whether these students would be forced to pay international fees, Molloy stated that this was a matter for the government.
Molloy suggested that a case could be made for the government to make an exception for Northern students. “It would seem kind of important to me, as part of the Good Friday Agreement and everything else, that they should be treated differently. Or at least a case could be made, and it should be examined very carefully, to continue encouraging students from the North to be treated like students from the South.”
In an interview with The University Times last year, Prendergast acknowledged that Brexit offered an opportunity to Trinity. “I think as it becomes more clear about what Brexit means, tangible opportunities will exist for us, and we’ll be ready to take them”, he said.
Prendergast noted that the College’s senior officers were “having conversations” on the issue, while the issue had come up when talking to UK universities.
Trinity, like many Irish universities, collaborate on research with UK universities. “If they’re out of the network, well, that doesn’t help us”, Prendergast said.
A report, published by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) last November, made a number of recommendations of how Ireland should respond to Brexit. Among them, it called on Irish universities to work to attract the “best students, academics and researchers” to the country, as well as to attract “flagship” EU projects and centres to Ireland.