Imperial College London, one of the top ten universities in the world, is signing a partnership with the Technical University of Munich to allow academic staff to work in both of the universities post-Brexit. The university also partnered with France’s National Centre for Scientific Research earlier in the year to co-fund a maths laboratory. Alongside avoiding a significant downfall in funding, these partnerships will allow the university to remain up to date with the latest scientific and mathematical advancements across Europe.
Researchers and other academics will have something akin to academic dual citizenship that will allow them to continue to conduct shared research in science subjects, even after the UK has left the European Union. Imperial College London has long been among the top four biggest recipients of EU research funds and the agreement will enable their researchers to remain eligible for EU research projects and funding in the future.
There has been concern that the relationship between UK and Irish universities may be affected by Brexit and will have an impact on thousands of students and academics. The primary concern is how fees for Irish students in the UK might change and to what extent. Currently, fees in UK universities for Non-EU students are three times higher than EU and domestic fees. While other EU citizens will have to pay international fees after Britain leaves the European Union, it has been confirmed that Irish students will pay the UK citizen rate and will still be able to access student loans.
Students and academics have expressed concern about the potential rise and have suggested a special agreement in which Irish students will be deemed “home” students so that fees will remain the same.
Speaking at a high-level conference in London in the summer, organised by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, and sponsored by the Higher Education Authority and Science Foundation Ireland, British government Minister for Science Sam Gyimah assured Irish students that he is committed to maintaining their current rights. “We are keen to maintain our partnership with Ireland as the UK leaves the EU. Indeed, we want it not just to continue, but to get stronger,” he said. “We welcome Irish students to the UK. And we have no intention to cut or cap international student numbers.”
Of 15,000 Irish students studying abroad, two thirds of them are in the UK. The number of Irish students in UK universities is particularly high in disciplines such as nursing, medicine and physiotherapy.
Not only do Irish universities not have the space to increase their yearly intake in these subjects to accommodate those students, but there is also severe lack of student housing in Ireland at the moment, causing students to defer places or drop out.
Additionally, some Irish students prefer the UK system of applying to university over the Irish points system. For some, it makes it easier to get a place on their course. In those ways the UK may seem more appealing or accommodating to prospective students sitting their leaving certificate exams. UK Science Minister Gyimah said “they bring welcome income to UK universities, and to the economies of our towns and cities. In the longer term, they offer something even more valuable: the prospect of ongoing business, political, cultural and research links between our two countries. Long may this continue.”
It is also important that existing research collaboration arrangements remain the same between Irish and UK universities, otherwise Irish academics will have to look elsewhere in Europe to form partnerships in their research.
Currently, the UK is Ireland’s second most frequent research collaborator in Horizon 2020 projects, conducting research on the energy potential of our oceans through the Marinet project, the Joint Programming Initiative for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, and on the EBODAC project (Ebola Vaccine Deployment, Acceptance and Compliance), to name a few. The UK Research Council also frequently funds projects involving researchers in Ireland.
Ireland is ranked first in the world for nanotechnology, and third in the world for the quality of materials science research. Because of its reputation in these sciences, and because of its European location, Brexit could possibly lead to international researchers choosing to settle or study in Ireland instead of Britain. Nine of the world’s Top 10 ICT companies and nine of the world’s Top 10 pharmaceutical companies are already operating in Ireland. As a result of this, high-tech companies may also consider setting up their businesses in Ireland, which will provide jobs for science and technology graduates here.
Since the Brexit vote, applications from Irish students to UK universities has already decreased by 18% as students look elsewhere in Europe to study.