Sunday 23 July 2017

Ireland's education system could enjoy positive spin-off from Brexit - but dangers loom

The reason the UK attracts so much EU funding is the reputation of many of its universities;
if they lose out, so could Ireland. Stock photo: PA
The reason the UK attracts so much EU funding is the reputation of many of its universities; if they lose out, so could Ireland. Stock photo: PA
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Ireland's higher education system could enjoy a positive spin-off from Brexit, although it also presents huge dangers.

On the plus side, Ireland may become a magnet for talented academics and researchers - and the research funding they bring - as well as international students, who want to work or study in what will then be one of just two English speaking countries in the EU (the other being Malta).

Among the negatives could be the effective closing off of a route to college in the UK, which is taken by thousands of Irish students every year.

For academics and researchers, language may not be Ireland's only attraction - there is a very large pot of funding disbursed from Brussels to member states for research.

The UK is a major net beneficiary of this funding, and, in its absence, the theory is there would be more for everyone else, including, importantly, English-speaking Ireland.

But it's not that simple. According to a Brexit discussion paper from the Higher Education Authority (HEA), some 72pc of grants to Ireland under a recent EU research programme involved a UK partner.

The reason the UK attracts so much EU funding is the reputation of many of its universities; if they lose out, so could Ireland.

Brexit holds the potential to drive a large number of international students who either want an English language third-level education, or to learn English in Ireland, into a lucrative "industry" the Government is trying to develop.

On the other hand, there are 2,000 or so students from the Republic who attend college in Northern Ireland each year, and about 12,000 others in England, Scotland and Wales - many because they could not gain access to a course in Ireland.

In 2019, will a student from Dundalk in Queen's University Belfast,be treated as an "international" and be liable for double-digit fees? Will the many Irish school leavers and graduates of post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses who study medicine/health sciences in the UK because the points system does not allow them to do so at home face a similar fate?

The impact of Brexit, particularly on the daily movements of staff and students who live on one side of the Border and work or study on the other, is a major issue. A recent paper by the Royal Irish Academy highlighted concern among academics about the importance of maintaining an open Border to allow free travel.

Irish Independent

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