Only “robust investment” will be enough to allow Irish higher education to weather the challenges of Brexit, which is already posing a threat to Ireland’s links to UK universities, a new report has said.
In the report, launched last night, the Royal Irish Academy calls for a “bespoke suite of programmes including bilateral funding agreements to support a new Irish-British research area”. The organisation also recommended against charging UK students international fees – a position that many Irish universities and the Irish Universities Association have taken.
The report finds that the elimination of an agreed common travel area would result in “reduced staff and student mobility” between Ireland and the UK. With no special travel arrangement between the UK and Ireland, Irish-based students would have to pay the full UK international student fees ranging from £15,000 to £30,000 per annum. This would lead to a reduction in research collaboration and “the isolation of Northern Ireland education institutions from all-island opportunities”. Between 2012 and 2016, Ireland collaborated with the UK on 12,968 academic papers, more than any other country in Europe.
The Brexit taskforce, in the report, states that Brexit is occurring at “a critical juncture for the higher education sector”, and following severe funding cuts, Brexit threatens the sector’s “green shoots of recovery”.
The Royal Irish Academy Brexit Taskforce, which was launched in March, is co-chaired by Trinity’s Prof Jane Ohlmeyer, who is also the Chair of the Irish Research Council, and Prof Gerard McKenna, a former Vice-Chancellor of Ulster University.
According to the report, each year approximately 10,000 Irish-based students travel to the UK for higher education.
The report highlights how a “hard Brexit” scenario would result in an increased demand for places in Irish universities. In the absence of additional funding and support, this would “aggravate student-staff ratios” and result in the decline of Irish universities within global rankings, it says.
In addition a “hard Brexit” would significantly impact the 10 per cent of academic staff in Irish higher education who are UK citizens.
The report details the strategic actions that need to be taken in order harness opportunities for higher education and research on the island of Ireland. These actions include maintaining the academic relationships between Ireland and the UK, addressing the funding crisis in higher education and developing Ireland’s research strategies.
Additional promotion must also be seen for current mobility programmes, including Erasmus, to attract more international students to Ireland. The report also notes that the governments must offer more support for for “pan-island bodies such as the Royal Irish Academy and Universities Ireland” in order to continue the dialogue between the UK and Ireland.