Building strategic links in education Bric by Bric


Increased student exchange and research collaboration is paving the way for stronger ties with India, Brazil and Russia

Irish educational institutions are signing an increasing number of memorandums of understanding (MOU) with the Bric countries, to allow for increased student exchange, and more importantly, increased international research collaboration.

While growing links between new economic Goliath China and the Irish government, academia and industry have already been well documented, less is known about activity in the high-growth markets of Brazil, Russia and India.

In all three economies, it is educational links which will lay the foundations for future export market success. Numerous Irish institutions already have ties with educational bodies in the Brics which have lead to cross collaboration at all higher education levels. Plus the increasing amount of commercially-driven research means that many educational links will organically become industrial ties.


“A lot of Irish universities and institutes of technology are recruiting their students from India to come over here to do their studies, both at third, fourth and research level,” explains Cathy Holohan, Enterprise Ireland export market adviser for India and the Association of South East Asian Nations. Educational links such as these frequently lead to business ties being forged later. This month there is another Government-led education mission to India.

“India is a recognised high growth market – like the other Brics – which are all experiencing high GDP growth so they warrant a lot of extra attention from Irish exporters,” she says.

“Sectors where opportunities for exporters already exist on the ground include the life sciences, telecommunications and renewable energies.” While there are already existing research and trade links between Ireland and India in these sectors, Holohan sees even more opportunity that could yet be tapped into.

“All of the largest pharmaceuticals companies in the world are based in India,” she says. The Network of Excellence for Functional Biomaterials at NUI Galway has just agreed to collaborate with four Indian institutions.

“The number of smartphone users is growing exponentially in Indian cities,” adds Holohan. “Figures are showing that there are hundreds of thousands of new subscribers signing up every month.

“In terms of renewable energies, India is the third largest buyer of clean tech products in the world right now. Because of the huge urbanisation going on, as a matter of policy Indian authorities are prioritising clean air and water initiatives.”

India’s car ownership rates are also increasing and cities have dense traffic levels. “Transport is another growing area of development and Irish companies are involved in providing solutions for fleet management, transport management, parking and tolling.”


Brazil has become a busy spot for Irish research. High growth areas where research links continue to grow include financial, travel and security software, energy, life sciences, veterinary chemicals and, of course, education.

“Dublin City University’s international activities include a significant focus on Brazil,” explains Eileen Colgan of DCU. “Activities are supplemented and supported by the Irish Government’s commitment to Brazil as a strategic partner. The Science without Borders programme offers a wide range of opportunities to both countries’ students and researchers. The focus on Brazil is a countrywide initiative with involvement from the Irish Universities Association (IUA), the Department of Education and Skills, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Higher Education Authority, Enterprise Ireland, and so on.

“DCU has closely engaged with the Brazilian authorities and the Science without Borders programme and has led to some important developments. A website has been developed within DCU to support this programme and promotional materials are now available in Portuguese.

“DCU developed a highly innovative model which captures and displays detailed information on research projects in the Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) area for prospective research students. This model was well received when shown to the Brazilian bodies CAPES and CNPq in Brasilia earlier this year, and has since been rolled out to include other institutions via the IUA Euraxess portal.”

In addition to the Dublin institution’s cross collaboration, the University of Limerick has just signed its own MOU to forge closer links with the University of Sao Paulo.


While linguistic departments will have had presences in a variety of exotic locations for decades, in terms of innovation sectors, Irish research ties with the likes of India and Brazil would be relatively new. However, there have been Irish trade and research missions to Russia since the 1970s.

“Irish businesses are very visible in the engineering sector, well positioned in data centre, pharmaceuticals, and industrial build projects,” explains Gerard McCarthy from the Enterprise Ireland’s Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States Division.

“The Agri-sector is providing strong business for genetics, and dairy equipment suppliers. The aviation sector is supplying good business for software companies.”

Two institutions in particular have maintained strong links in Russia – Dublin Institute of Technology and Trinity.

DIT’s School of Electronic and Communications Engineering and the Photonics Research Centre, have been collaborating with the Moscow Institute for Radiotechnics, Electronics and Automation (MIREA) for seven years. In a recent trade mission, they signed a new agreement with MIREA to increase research links in optical sensing.

Trinity has connections with Russian a variety of areas. “Obviously, we would have a lot of linguistic research links but Trinity would also be involved in cross collaborative research with Russian institutions in areas like nano science, physics, medicine and maths,” explains Dr Sarah Smyth from the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies in Trinity, the only one of its kind in the country.

Former provost of Trinity John Hegarty has been involved in the development of a Russian “Silicon Valley” in the Moscow suburb of Skolkovo. Within this digital industrial centre, the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, or SkolTech, will soon open its doors and offers significant opportunities for research collaboration in a variety of innovative areas for Irish institutions. SkolTech has identified a number of of big areas it wants to be in – IT, bio-medical, space exploration and energy,” says Hegarty.

“It offers tremendous opportunity for Ireland because they are very keen to collaborate with international institutions. They brought in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to assist in the design of the new university. There is a much more open atmosphere in Russia to collaboration than there was in the past and they have such great traditions in the sciences and mathematics.”

Global growth: Where the opportunities lie


The country’s third-level scholarship scheme – Science without Borders – aims to send 100,000 Brazilians abroad over a four-year period for primary or master degrees or doctorates.

This year, an agreement was made between the Higher Education Authority in Ireland and the Brazilian Government scholarship body CAPES, Science Foundation Ireland and CNPq. The scheme will focus on science and technology-based education.

There are close to 145 Irish companies actively selling to Brazil.


With a population more then 1.2 billion, it may come as a surprise that there are only 563 universities in India. So education abroad isnt just a luxury, very often its a necessity.

There are approximately 100,000 Indian students travelling abroad each year to study overseas.

About 30 Irish companies in a range of areas including software and IT, construction services and higher education, have set up shop in India. A further 100 Irish companies are in the early stages of entering the market.


Russia is the 11th largest global market for Irish companies. Annual trade between the two nations is approximately €2 billion, 30 per cent of which took place in 2011.

At present there are 120 Irish companies already doing business there.

High standards of education have led to a technically savvy generation of Russians, and the country has always had a strong reputation for the quality of its software programmers.

Figures from Enterprise Ireland country reports

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