Comment & Analysis
Jan 14, 2018

Beneath Pledges of Post-Brexit Unity, Worries of Disorder for Third-Level

The higher education sector needs guarantees to allay fears about the post-Brexit higher education landscape.

By The Editorial Board

There has been much made of Ireland’s decision to ardently align itself with the grouping known as the EU27 – the EU27 being every member state that has not voted to leave the EU – instead of the UK. And there are two trains of thought as to why it has done so: one is that we’re fixated on looking like compliant EU citizens. The other is that it’s actually in our own long-term interest to do so.

The latter is obviously the more plausible theory: unless we are prepared to countenance the wacky suggestion that we too should leave the EU, then we need to be doing all we can to fasten ourselves to the common European project. So far, it seems to be working in Ireland’s favour.

Nonetheless, simmering beneath all these pledges of European unity are concerns about a whole host of issues. Just how is Ireland’s trading relationship with the UK going to be redefined? There’s the border with Northern Ireland (of course). This week, concerns about post-Brexit research and higher education links with the UK were decisively laid bare in a new report from the Royal Irish Academy, which has set up a working group to look at the surrounding issues. Like with most areas open to post-Brexit disruption, even the basic facts and figures here are jarring.


For instance, nearly 13,000 research papers were produced from collaborations between Irish and UK researchers between 2012 and 2016 – an order of magnitude more than with any other EU member state. More than 10,000 Irish citizens study in the UK, while nearly 2,500 UK citizens do the same here. UK citizens account for approximately 10 per cent of academic staff in Irish higher-education institutions.

Everyone’s top priority is to secure the rights and entitlements of both country’s respective citizens within the already-existing common travel area. But to curb the worries of the third-level sector, we need to see a guarantee about fee status as soon as possible. Only then can we start to consider the types of creative countermeasures, like huge bilateral research funding programmes, that might stifle the impending disorder.