Hard Brexit opens up wonderful opportunities for Irish colleges and universities

We are well positioned to craft a world-class international education offering

The UK’s Brexit vote is a wonderful opportunity for Ireland’s third-level sector - if we can grasp the opportunity.  Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The UK’s Brexit vote is a wonderful opportunity for Ireland’s third-level sector - if we can grasp the opportunity. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

 

With every day that passes it becomes clear that Brexit is, if it happens, going to be hard.

This implies that the UK will, among other things, be outside the customs union with all the trade dislocation that that implies.

The rationale for that is that all modes of staying within the customs union will require freedom of movement of people.

And that is the rub. The predominant reason for voting “no” was around immigration, conflated with a notion of taking back control. This opens an opportunity for Ireland, if we can show the vision to grasp it

In a MSc class recently, with about 60 per cent non-Irish, mostly non-EU, we spoke about Brexit. The overwhelming view of those students was that, as one Indian student noted, “the British have voted to close themselves off from the world and its currents”.

A great part of how this will work out is a significant clampdown on student numbers. This is not the first nor will it be the last time that international students have been the target of the Tory desire to reduce net immigration.

So, we have a UK which is determined to reduce international students – despite what they contribute to the economy – and which is a much chillier place for the 35,000 plus EU academics. Chances are it will get colder still.

This is a wonderful position for us.

Ireland has a strong but small international student sector. Education, particularly third-level education, has a massive multiplier effect on the economy.

We know from international work that increasing third-level institutions is associated with significant increases in long-term growth.

Finally, we know that there is a strong desire for university status in the institute of technology sector.

All the evidence points to the development of an income contingent loan scheme as being the way which the government will seek to address the funding crisis in higher education

This constellation of events suggests to me an integrated solution. We should offer to the best EU staff in the UK an opportunity to transfer to the Irish sector. We should focus in the first instance on the arts, humanities and social sciences sphere, with the provision that these initial transfers move to the new universities.

They would set up faculties in the institutes of technology to complement existing science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) faculties and allow them to transfer to university status when and if they have a solid faculty in place.

We should focus the Stem hires initially on the best faculties in the State. This would allow the potential to supercharge the university Stem faculties and “backfill” the IoT’s need for arts, humanities and social sciences – essential if they are to become comprehensive universities. We should step up our recruitment of EU students to complement our non-EU ambitions.

There is a massive demand for higher education internationally. Universities can and should both be entrepreneurial in their aims and be allowed to be same. Giving non-EU students rights to spend up to one year working here after a Bachelor’s, three years after a Master’s and five after a PhD, on the same basis as EU students, would make Ireland extremely attractive.

Add in the English-speaking, democratic, EU membership issues and we should be able to craft a world-class international education offering.

To do this would require that the Government remove the micromanaging employment control framework which is a growth-killer in the sector.

It should simultaneously make clear that new faculty hires will have to be funded from new student growth.

This latter is how the Trinity Business School is expanding – the new building and new faculty hires are not costing the taxpayer a penny.

It is improbable that all arts, humanities and social science areas will cover their costs. To be a university, nonetheless, these are required, but the stricture of the institution being required to show that it can support these from “excess” demand elsewhere should be maintained.

Ireland is amazingly well positioned. Small changes can make it only better, if Minister for Education Richard Bruton has the courage to grasp the opportunity. * Brian Lucey is professor of finance at the school of business at Trinity College Dublin