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Priority 5: Higher education and research

19 June 2017

Ireland and the UK’s interlinked history means the two countries share a common academic and research culture. They operate in a shared higher education and research environment, and there are deep similarities in curriculum structures, pedagogy and how universities and colleges are structured and managed.

Across Ireland and the UK, there is a shared academic career system and environment for post-graduate and post-qualification experience. Post-doctoral fellows and early stage researchers as well as mid-career academics seek opportunities in each other’s domain. The same goes for senior academic, professional and administrative positions. At present, there are over 2,330 Irish academic staff in UK higher education institutions.

The UK is Ireland’s largest research partner under Horizon 2020 – it was partner for 13.4% of projects won, followed very closely by Germany (13.3%) and Spain (10.9%). Some 72% of the total Irish drawdown of Horizon 2020 project funds has involved a UK partner.

This close relationship between Ireland and the UK in higher education and research exists now within the context of the EU through its free movement and funding framework. Brexit, has the potential to significantly change the current, overwhelmingly positive Irish-UK relationship in this area. It is worth remembering, that relative to other EU member states, the Irish research and innovation ecosystem is still in the development phase following significant investment in capacity and capability at institution and industry level since the early 2000s. A strong EU research base is fundamental for the Irish system to reach its full potential.
Challenge: A disruption of the close research and education collaboration across Ireland and the UK

Given Ireland’s close links to UK higher and further education, new restrictions on travel and funding would have a particularly acute negative impact on Irish students and academics. Brexit could:
  • Reduce cross-border student mobility and recruitment
  • Disrupt joint programmes/degrees, staff mobility and other teaching and learning initiatives, especially those funded via EU programmes
  • Reduce the money available to EU research funding streams due to the loss of UK contribution
  • Displace Irish researchers and undermine the strong relationships that have successfully supported the Irish research system

Solution Maintain the CTA to reduce the impact on valuable cross-border flows of staff, students and collaboration between Ireland and the UK.

Solution Ensure that EU funding for education, research and innovation remains a priority and maintain EU funding streams and programmes benefiting both the EU27 and UK (e.g. Erasmus+, Interreg and Horizon 2020) through new collaborative agreements or, if necessary, develop alternative new programmes. This should be a priority as the next EU seven year Multi-annual Financial Framework (MMF) is negotiated and ultimately agreed between the EU27.

Solution Put in place new networks and platforms to allow new partnerships with other EU higher education institutions. There are also potential opportunities to identify new partners, and to collaborate with other EU countries looking for new partners. However, making and strengthening connections and collaborations with member states on the continent can be more costly in terms of both time and money.

Solution Initiate professional development for Irish based researchers to develop the key project management skills to become the next generation of global research leaders and crucial partners in future EU research programmes.