The University of Birmingham has launched a major partnership with Trinity College Dublin across research, education and professional services, with the aim of strengthening its European links ahead of Brexit.
Academics from the two universities will work together initially across three research areas: clinical trials and training; biomaterials; and digital textual editing.
On the education side, there will be joint taught master’s programmes in each of the three research areas as well as exchange opportunities for students.
The universities will also collaborate across professional services, sharing best practice on areas including online timetabling, academic year structure and the operational management of university facilities.
Robin Mason, pro vice-chancellor (international) at Birmingham, said that the intent was to “move over time to an even deeper mode of partnership”, which would include joint appointments and shared facilities.
Vice-chancellor Sir David Eastwood said that the partnership agreement, which was signed on 25 January, came “out of us thinking through the way we want to be positioned with European institutions post-Brexit”, but added “we’ve been interested for a long time in working closely with a partner in the Irish Republic”.
“When we were looking to develop European partnerships, as mundane and pedestrian as it sounds, one of the criteria was the ease of getting there and back,” he said.
When asked whether he hoped the collaboration would allow Birmingham to access European funding post-Brexit, Sir David said: “It will certainly give us options and opportunities. Some of those might be Brexit-related…but I don’t think those options and opportunities are restricted just to Brexit.”
For example, he said, the collaboration would allow Birmingham to “play into the UK’s industrial strategy…in a way that we may not be able to do quite so much if we were doing it without the partnership”.
“Time will tell what Brexit will mean. In the meantime, having such a strong partnership just puts you in an excellent position for whatever context you have to deal with,” he added.
Sir David said that there was “a good fit between the institutions” and “real interest on the part of both universities in the infrastructural development we both have”.
“One of the things we don’t do at Birmingham is we don’t try to artificially create partnerships where they don’t exist naturally between members of faculty,” he continued.
Professor Mason added that the university was “not doing something that we wouldn’t do in the absence of Brexit”, although he admitted that Brexit had helped to “accelerate some of the thinking” and highlighted that “there aren’t that many major strategic partnerships between UK and Irish universities, and there really should be”.
Several other UK universities have established closer collaborations with European research institutions since the Brexit vote, including the University of Warwick, Imperial College London, the University of Oxford and King’s College London.