A cross-border report into the research community’s opinion on Brexit shows almost universal fear for its effects in Northern Ireland.
As the governments of Ireland and the UK debate the possible future of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, researchers on both sides of the divide are worried about the potential damage that might be caused to science.
To understand the general feeling among the scientific community, the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) established a Brexit taskforce to survey researchers on the potential impacts – including opportunities – that might arise.
Now, a preliminary report on these findings, involving nearly 400 academics on both sides of the border, has found that they almost universally feel Brexit will have a negative impact on the higher education sector across the island.
Perhaps most striking is that those in Northern Ireland overwhelmingly feel that this region will be hurt the most, with 96pc of them saying so compared with 66pc of those in Ireland believing this will be the case.
When asked whether collaborations between north and south were very important in their field, results from across the island showed that 79pc of respondents agreed compared to 7pc who did not.
Ireland more positive than Northern Ireland
However, variations start to appear when analysing both Ireland and Northern Ireland separately, with the former appearing to be more optimistic.
When asked how Brexit would impact higher education, respondents who expect a negative impact drops to 59pc in Ireland compared with 75pc in Northern Ireland.
Similarly, those expecting a positive impact was shown to increase to 41pc in Ireland in contrast to 25pc in Northern Ireland, suggesting Irish researchers think there are still opportunities to be had following the UK’s exit from the EU.
This would appear to follow previous comments made by people such as the AMBER centre’s director Michael Morris who pondered whether the split could attract more research projects from the EU to Ireland.
What both governments need to do
Overall, Irish academics generally agreed that the UK should remain within EU funding bodies like Horizon 2020, but the UK government would need to contribute financially towards it.
As for what the academics felt would be most important for both governments to maintain, the survey found that they most wanted the Common Travel Area agreement to be retained within the area of research. This included the need to maintain existing collaborations beyond the leave date in 2019.
Speaking of the findings, Irish Research Council director and co-chair of the Brexit taskforce Jane Ohlmeyer, along with her other co-chair Gerry McKenna, said it shows the “huge impact” Brexit will have on higher education.
“The emphasis must be on creating a conducive environment for higher education and research to continue to thrive on a whole-island basis,” they said.
“Universities must be given every opportunity and assistance in their quest to improve their rankings as these are a key driver of FDI and competitiveness.”