The Department of Education and Skills (DES) are collaborating with the Higher Education Authority (HEA), to prepare for consequences of both a ‘negotiated exit’ and ‘no deal’ Brexit on their institutions.
The EU has stated as past of the Withdrawal Agreement, that the UK and Ireland could agree to maintain their current higher education relationship under the Common Travel Area (CTA), which was first agreed in 1923 and can, therefore, continue to operate unaffected by Brexit.
In regard to the fears that Brexit will have significant implications on UK students attending third level institutions in Ireland, the DES says that they ‘are satisfied that the successful conclusion of discussions on the Common Travel Area (CTA) will mitigate many of the impacts of Brexit on the higher education system.’
Aside from the exchange of students between the UK and Ireland, Brexit could have more concrete effects on collaborative research proposals involving the two countries. ‘Clearly, once the UK exits from the EU, it will become a third country and therefore, will not be able to participate within joint programmes under EU funded research programme.’ The UK will, however, continue their funding agreement under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme.
The Horizon 2020 programme has ensured the provision of funding for 1554 collaborative Irish-UK projects currently in operation.
Although the UK is Ireland’s second biggest project partner, our relations really only amass to 12% of our total number of collaborators across the EU. Therefore, though the links between Ireland and the UK are currently prominent, they are not vital; many of our projects could continue without the UK as a partner.
Some projects currently in operation include Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) agreements with the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council in the UK and the Engineering and Psychical Science Research Council in the UK. The former project focuses on ‘research and technology development in all areas of the BBSRC legal remit for example bioscience for health, agriculture, food security, industrial biotechnology and bioenergy.’ This agreement has funded fourteen collaborative projects in Irish education institutions since 2015 with a value of five million. Similarly, the SFI’s relationship with the EPSPC ‘will support joint research and technology development in all areas of the EPSRC legal remit which covers chemistry, engineering, information and communications technologies, materials, mathematical sciences and physics.’
The process in these relationships involves the UK bodies approving applications for funding and then the SFI in Ireland automatically funding the project without their own review process.
The promotion of collaborative research projects between Ireland and UK is presided over by The Irish Research Council (IRC) in conjunction with the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The IRC is planning to invest €18 million in funding 36 researchers to study the Irish eco-system, as well as €12 million investment in the development of an ‘Advanced Grant’ Laureate Award. This award aims to challenge researchers by increasing the competition between international collaborations and create further scenarios for success within European funding projects, like the European Research Council, and this aim will specifically involve collaborations with the UK.
Ultimately, Brexit and whatever the specific stipulations of the UK’s departure from the EU entail will cause changes in every are in which Ireland has a partnership with the UK, but the effects of Brexit on Irish research projects may not be negative and our research bodies and education institutions aim to continue to ‘maximise opportunities for research collaboration with the UK’ regardless of Brexit.
By Muireann O’Shea – CoEditor