Uncertainty around the impact of Brexit puts future student fees and research collaboration at risk

Today the Irish Universities Association (IUA) presented to the Seanad Special Select Committee on the impact of Brexit on Ireland’s universities and highlighted the risks and challenges facing research and higher education in Ireland.

The IUA called on government to act now to ensure Ireland does not fall behind, emphasising the role of research and higher education played in protecting Ireland during the last recession and in  attracting highly skilled jobs and Foreign Direct Investment.

The UK is Ireland’s most significant partner in terms of co-authored research publications (15,158 between 2014 – 2018) and is Ireland’s third most prevalent collaborator in the EU research programme, Horizon 2020, accounting for 10% of all collaborations. 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.

Lewis Purser, Director Learning & 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.”

Given Ireland’s close relationship with the UK on R&D, the IUA also supported the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce’s recommendation to boost existing bilateral research mechanisms between Ireland and the UK with the creation of a dedicated 20 million euro UK-Ireland bilateral research stream, with equivalent funding from the UK.

Highlight the challenges facing Ireland’s R&D sector, Dr Lisa Keating, Director of Research & Innovation commented: “As stated by Prof. Hugh Brady, former President of UCD and now Vice-Chancellor at the University of Bristol the Irish research environment is now seen by many abroad as significantly inferior to most major competitors, 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. We are calling on government to increase national investment in R&D to 2.5% of GNP according to the targets laid out in the Government’s “Innovation 2020 strategy.”

The IUA welcomed the Irish and UK Governments’ Memorandum of Understanding signed in May 2019 which guarantees that the reciprocal rights and privileges offered by the Common Travel Area (CTA) will continue after the UK leaves the EU.  However, this overarching MOU does not per se guarantee the same financial treatment of Irish and UK students within this future scenario and the IUA is aware that that the Government hopes to sign a sectoral MOU with its UK counterparts to ensure that Irish students who may study in the UK in the future are subject to the same financial terms and conditions, including eligibility to grants and loans, as UK students, and vice-versa for UK students studying in Ireland.

“Despite this progress, uncertainty remains regarding the future fees’ status of Irish students in the UK and UK students in Ireland, contributing to the ongoing decline in student mobility.  In addition, a rising concern across Irish universities is the potential for increased demand for places. With many Irish and broader European students previously choosing to study in the UK, Brexit could place a significant capacity strain on higher education in Ireland, added Lewis Purser.

The IUA’s submission in full is available here.


For more information contact:

Lia O’Sullivan, Head of Communications at IUA, lia.osullivan@iua.ie