Research collaborations between Ireland and UK strengthened

25 Apr 2017

From left: Minister of State for Training, Skills and Innovation John Halligan, TD; Robin Barnett, the British Ambassador to Ireland; Jane Nicholson, associate director of EPSRC; and Prof Mark Ferguson, SFI director general. Image: Jason Clarke

SFI and the UK’s EPSRC have struck a fresh research deal.

Researchers are, rather understandably, concerned about what the Brexit vote will bring to their various fields of science.

Those in the UK are concerned that funding from the EU, a lifeline of finance for research bodies throughout the four countries, will not be replaced after a full exit.

Those in Ireland, and indeed elsewhere in the EU, are concerned that partnerships with UK researchers, of which there are an awful lot, are at risk of falling by the wayside.

Question mark

Considering the lengthy programmes, often with little to show until their completion, this puts a huge question mark over studies in everything from medical research to pollution, smart cities and migration.

However, state bodies are strengthening their stance in the public domain, encouraging further cooperation, rather than less. Whether this proves true in the long term remains to be seen but, at the moment, signs are good.

For example, a new collaborative agreement between Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which aims to encourage joint research applications between the two countries, has just been signed.


SFI funds oriented basic and applied research in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It promotes and assists the development and competitiveness of industry, enterprise and employment in Ireland.

EPSRC, meanwhile, is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing almost £900m a year.

The agreement will support joint R&D in all areas of EPSRC’s remit, which covers chemistry, engineering, ICT, materials, mathematical sciences and physics.

“In order to maintain the UK’s position as a global research leader, it is vital that we work with the world’s best minds and organisations,” said Prof Philip Nelson, chief executive of EPSRC.

“EPSRC and the research councils have a long track record of success in international collaboration, and agreements such as this will allow us to strengthen our ties with leading bodies such as SFI, and improve our ability to deliver cutting-edge research.”

Apply and conquer

Now, a single joint proposal from collaborative teams will be put forward through EPSRC’s standard grants process. If they are deemed successful, the UK researchers will be funded through EPSRC, with Irish researchers funded through SFI.

“I very much welcome this important collaboration with EPSRC, which presents us with an excellent opportunity to promote closer linkages between our top-class researchers and their peers in the UK,” said Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of SFI.

“The opportunity to combine the expertise in Ireland with researchers supported in the UK by EPSRC will greatly enhance the impact of research performed in both jurisdictions.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic