The Irish Universities Association (IUA) has called on the government to invest in third-level education to protect universities from the risks and challenges of Brexit.
In an address to the Seanad Special Select Committee yesterday, the IUA highlighted the role of research and higher education in protecting Ireland during the most recent recession.
Investing in higher education, the organisation said, will attract highly skilled jobs and foreign direct investment to Ireland.
In a press statement, Lewis Purser, the Director of learning and teaching and academic affairs at the IUA, said: “With the UK’s impending departure from the European Union, we are now faced with another crisis, in which higher education and research have a crucial role to play.”
“We are calling on the government to protect and indeed boost investment in higher education and research in order to ensure the substantial economic and social dividends that these are guaranteed to pay back”, he said.
The UK is Ireland’s most significant partner in terms of co-authored research publications, with 15,158 joint publications between British and Irish universities between 2014 and 2018. It is Ireland’s third most prevalent collaborator in the EU research programme,
The IUA has said that if the UK is no longer a participant in European Programmes and even if their status is modified to a third-party country, significant challenges arise for Irish universities.
Universities are supporting a proposal by the British–Irish Chamber of Commerce that would see €20 million in funding for the UK-Ireland bilateral research stream, with equivalent funding from the UK.
In a press statement, Dr Lisa Keating, director of research & innovation said: “If we fail to invest now, we risk failing to compete on a European and global level exasperated by the threat of reduced collaboration with the UK as our biggest research partner.”
“As stated by Prof. Hugh Brady”, she said, “the Irish research environment is now seen by many abroad as significantly inferior to most major competitors”.
Last week, Brady, the former President of University College Dublin (UCD) and current President of the University of Bristol, said that the government has continued to “sit on its hands” in the face of the Cassells report and has failed to “grasp the nettle of tuition fees or loans”.
He said that “the state of Ireland’s higher education and research system should be viewed as a national crisis”.
“We are calling on government to increase national investment in R&D to 2.5 per cent of GNP according to the targets laid out in the Government’s “Innovation 2020 strategy”, Keating said.
Students’ unions around Ireland expressed dismay this week after Budget 2020 failed to directly address core funding to the third-level sector.
Some €74 million was allocated to the National Training Fund, after the IUA requested funding of €117 million to universities in their pre-budget submission.
The National Training Fund (NTF) was established by the National Training Fund Act 2000 to raise the skills of those in employment, to give jobseekers relevant skills and to facilitate lifelong learning.
Speaking to The University Times after the budget, USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick said the budget was an “absolute disgrace” in terms of higher education.
“The message”, she said, “is that we won’t forget about it. The students won’t forget about it”.