Two-thirds of Irish academics believe Brexit will have a negative impact on higher education in their nation, rising to 96 per cent in Northern Ireland, according to a survey by the Royal Irish Academy.
Keeping strong research collaboration between North and South and between Ireland and the UK “regardless of border boundaries” was the clear priority for respondents in both communities, the RIA said.
Respondents "overwhelmingly favoured" the retention of the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland in its current form and "opposed the return of a hard border", the RIA added in its report on the survey, carried out by its Brexit taskforce.
The Common Travel Area allows for free movement of UK and Irish citizens between Ireland, Northern Ireland the rest of the UK. There are fears that Brexit may threaten the agreement and bring the return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The RIA gained 390 survey responses from its members and grant awardees, the Irish Research Council’s networks of early career researchers, and university and institute of technology vice-presidents and directors of research in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Asked if Brexit was likely to impact negatively on North-South research collaboration in Ireland, 35 per cent strongly agreed and 42 per cent agreed.
On the question of whether collaborations with the UK were important in their field, 45 per cent strongly agreed and 34 per cent agreed.
Nonetheless, 34 per cent of respondents felt that Brexit would have a positive impact on the Irish higher education sector, with potential factors including “potential to to win more EU funding if UK researchers become ineligible to apply” as well as the potential to attract international academics and students who may otherwise have gone to the UK, the RIA said.
Only 4 per cent of respondents said the impact of Brexit on Northern Irish higher education would be positive.
Northern Irish respondents “overwhelmingly stated that they could see no benefits or opportunities which could be gained for higher education and research in Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit”, the report adds.
Respondents in Northern Ireland “frequently referenced” the “importance of an open border” as well as the “importance of retaining access to the major EU framework and innovation programmes” in terms of research funding. There is no certainty on whether the UK will remain in EU research programmes post-Brexit.
On measures to mitigate the impact of Brexit, the RIA said: “The most prevalent response from academics in both the North and South to this question was to preserve existing collaborative research and academic arrangements.”
Jane Ohlmeyer and Gerry McKenna, co-chairs of the RIA Brexit taskforce, said: “It is clear that the UK’s impending exit from the EU will have a huge impact on higher education and research on both sides of the border...The survey results deliver a strong message to the Irish and British governments that Brexit negotiations must promote conditions that enable UK-Ireland collaborations, facilitate the continued mobility of staff and students, and seek to secure future UK participation in EU research and innovation programmes.”