2018. Royal Irish Academy: Leading Experts Highlight Dangers for Northern Ireland Universities and Research Following Brexit


Ireland’s leading body of experts in the sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences has warned that Brexit will pose major challenges for higher education and research in Northern Ireland. A Royal Irish Academy[1] Taskforce report, chaired by its Vice President, Professor Gerry McKenna MRIA, highlights the danger of Northern Ireland losing research and skills capability funding from the EU which have helped to promote economic, social and cultural development and cohesion.

The report makes a number of recommendations designed to secure the capacity of the Northern Ireland HE sector to attract and retain talent, promote research and development, stimulate economic growth and to protect the peace process. These include:

  • the maintenance of an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland to allow for the continued unimpeded cross-border flow of people, goods and services.
  • the continuance of the current fee status and eligibility for access to higher education in Ireland and the UK, as currently enjoyed by UK and Irish students and continued involvement in Erasmus+ programme.
  • enhanced support for all-island bodies such as the RIA and Universities Ireland to create further opportunities for all-island and UK-Ireland dialogue, interchange and collaboration.
  • continued access to EU structural funding programmes (ERDF, ESF, PEACE and INTERREG). In the event of such funding no longer being available through EU/UK structures, it should be provided directly and ring-fenced by the UK government.
  • Continued eligibility for involvement in EU framework research programmes.
  • the promotion of greater ambition for, and increased flexibility of, the Northern Ireland HE sector including increased involvement of the Open University and the Further Education sector within the context of an increasing population on the island of Ireland and evolving skills needs.
  • the creation of a new Northern Ireland Tertiary Education Council to advise government and help establish greater coordination, resource distribution and oversight within and between the HE and FE sectors across all of Northern Ireland.
  • the development of joint north-south research centres, academic and research appointments and joint research studentships, to enhance the profile and international impact of the Northern Ireland universities.
  • the development of regional research-enhancement funding by UK Research and Innovation to expand Northern Ireland’s research capability.

Professor McKenna comments: “EU Structural Funds such as the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, and INTERREG have been crucial in building research capacity and educational and professional opportunity in a region which has suffered 40 years of trauma and division. Such funding should be maintained and ring-fenced in the future”.

“Post-Brexit the Northern Ireland HE system will need to be more coordinated and agile if it is to maintain its standing internationally and to also meet the economic, social and cultural needs of a growing population on the island of Ireland within a much more challenging economic and fiscal environment. There will require strong political will at the level of the UK and Irish governments and a future Northern Ireland Executive to actively promote and fund structures and initiatives to enhance north-south and east-west collaborations.”

See: RIA Taskforce Northern Ireland report, Higher Education and Research in Northern Ireland Post-Brexit, November 2017. https://www.ria.ie/sites/default/files/ni_brexit_report-_e-version-1.pdf

Membership of RIA Brexit Taskforce: Dr Mary Canning MRIA; Mr Liam Cleere, UCD; Dr Marie Cowan, Geological Survey NI; Prof Roger Downer MRIA, Limerick; Prof Anne Fuchs MRIA, UCD; Prof Eileen Harkin-Jones, Ulster; Prof Alun Jones, UCD; Prof David N. Livingstone, MRIA, QUB; Prof Gerry McKenna MRIA, RIA Vice-President; Prof Fionn Murtagh MRIA, Goldsmiths; Prof Brian Norton MRIA, DIT; Ms Nicki O´Connor, HEA; Prof Jane Ohlmeyer MRIA, TCD

Full report can be accessed via the link:



16 January 2018

[1] The Royal Irish Academy is Ireland’s leading academic body in the sciences, engineering, humanities, and social sciences. Established in 1785, it is an all-island independent forum of peer-elected experts. It makes a significant contribution to public debate and policy formation on issues in science, economics, technology and culture. 


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