Irish universities have chance to become ‘global research hub’

UK-based businessman Niall Fitzgerald says colleges in British face an existential crisis

Niall FitzGerald chairs Leverhulme Trust, one of the largest funders of academic research in the UK. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Niall FitzGerald chairs Leverhulme Trust, one of the largest funders of academic research in the UK. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Irish universities have a once-in-a-generation chance to become a global hub for research following Britain’s decision to leave the EU, an Irish business leader has said.

Niall FitzGerald chairs Leverhulme Trust, one of the largest funders of academic research in the UK. He said billions of euro of EU funds are drying up for UK colleges.

“I meet deeply worried vice-chancellors every day. They face an existential crisis,” he said. “Already, some of the world’s foremost researchers are seeking a new base within the EU, facing loss of their lead role on key research programmes or outright exclusion from pan-European research consortia.”

Mr FitzGerald, who is patron of the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce, said Irish universities now have an opportunity to form new partnerships to stave-off a brain-drain.

Falling rankings

Ireland

“The Irish Government must seize the unique opportunity which now arises to position Ireland as a global hub for research,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

A first step, he added, is implementation of the Cassells report into third-level funding “so that we assure the future funding environment for a sustainable universities sector.”

He said it was not a time to play “party politics” with a vital national resource and urged all sides to grab the opportunity.

Mr Fitzgerald, a former chairman and chief executive of Unilever, was speaking to business people and legal professionals at a A&L Goodbody event in Dublin yesterday.

Long-term funding

Patrick PrendergastTrinity College Dublin

He told a meeting of the European Universities Association in Porto yesterday that our student population is set to grow by a massive 25 per cent at a time of decreasing State investment.

“The pressure on Ireland is particular, but in many countries in Europe the story is similar to ours: declining State investment in education. What is the solution?”

Mr Prendergast said one potential revenue idea was to charge higher fees for students from other EU countries.

This, he said, could create a financial incentive to attract more EU students based on the UK’s experience since the 1980s.

“In the 1980s, the Thatcher government ended the taxpayer subsidy for non-EU students. There was uproar in parliament and claims that international students would be ‘repelled by higher fees’.

“In fact, the opposite happened: numbers of international students rose fast.”