Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Implications of Brexit for the Irish Educational System: Discussion

4:00 pm

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Everybody is in situ. This part of the meeting involves a discussion on the possible impact of Brexit on the Irish educational system. We will have the opportunity to listen to the views of stakeholders in this very important area. I took the opportunity over the weekend to look at statistics regarding Irish students abroad. In 2016, 12,000 Irish students studied in the UK while 2,000 studied in Northern Ireland. They are studying different subjects in the UK and Northern Ireland for different reasons but if 14,000 students suddenly decided that they were going to study in the Republic of Ireland, it would have significant implications for capacity here. We are all very familiar with the various arguments relating to the Cassells report and the need for further funding in the third-level sector. If the 1,500 Irish students abroad who receive SUSI grants could not receive these grants because of the UK being outside the EU, this issue, combined with that of the other 12,500 students involved, could have huge implications. Aside from the impact on our institutions and students, the area of research and collaboration between us, the UK and Northern Ireland is another issue.

We are delighted to have a number of witnesses here, all of whom are welcome. I thank them for their patience in waiting outside. I welcome Dr. Graham Love, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, HEA. I understand that he has been in this position for a week so I wish him the very best of luck. I also welcome Dr. Gemma Irvine, head of policy and strategic planning at the HEA; Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, chairperson of the Irish Research Council; Professor Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University, DCU - who was with us previously; and Mr. John McGrane, director general, and Mr. Paul Lynam, head of sectoral policy, from the British Irish Chamber of Commerce. It is important to look at other sectors outside education. Finally, I welcome Mr. Ned Costello, CEO of the Irish Universities Association; Mr. Jeremy Godfrey, board chairman, and Mr. Vincent McCarthy, chair and board member, from the International School of Dublin - an institution on which there could be a significant impact; and Ms Triona McCormack, director of research at UCD Research and Innovation. I thank the witnesses for their submissions and opening statements. I advise witnesses that these will be published on our website following the meeting. While we are very happy to receive the submissions, all of which the members have had an opportunity to read, I suggest that witnesses do not have to stick to the submissions but can instead give shortened versions. Members will then have the opportunity to ask questions.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I invite Professor MacCraith to make his opening statement.

Professor Brian MacCraith:

I will try to summarise my opening statement as much as possible because I realise that many of my colleagues have very similar points to make so in order to save time, I will cut it down. We think there are four main areas of relevance and one key challenge. In terms of student flows, which would be the first area, and picking up on the point made by the Chairman about the 12,000 Irish students in the UK, we believe there are three reasons why Irish students are in the UK. One is that distinctive programmes are offered there that are not available here. The second reason is excellent students who would probably be getting into universities like Oxford and Cambridge. The third reason is an inability to get into equivalent degree programmes in Ireland. The key point we would make is that if there is no increase in capacity here, this will increase competition for places in Ireland with two potential consequences. One is a potential increase in CAO points in specific programmes that are competitive and the second is the displacement of students who would otherwise have obtained places.

In the broader context and looking at international students, I would distinguish two cohorts. One consists of EU students, who will now be international students in a post-Brexit UK. They may well see Ireland as a very attractive proposition, although, as we know, many continental European universities are offering programmes through English so there will be a competitive space there. We must also include broader geopolitical developments. There is very clear evidence that looking at Brexit on its own is not really sufficient. One must look at Brexit in terms of what is happening in the US and elsewhere - anywhere with immigration issues. For example, a report in yesterday's edition of The Financial Timesstated that Indian students, who might have traditionally looked at the US in terms of MBAs and finance degrees, are now thinking about other English-speaking countries. We would argue that there is a huge potential international student opportunity - both EU and non-EU - from the combination of Brexit and other factors.

The second point relates to staff mobility. DCU is already seeing evidence of significant increases in numbers of EU academics currently based in UK universities looking to move elsewhere. Again, the combination of cultural instability, immigration policies and a general feeling of not being welcome is causing those academics to consider moving. If we couple that with a potential inability to avail of the huge Horizon 2020 funding for research and innovation, it is causing those academics to think of Ireland as a more attractive proposition.

I wish to address North-South engagement. As the university nearest the Border, DCU has put huge emphasis on the cross-Border mobility of staff and students and recognises that it can play a significant role in the stabilisation of peace on the island. We highlighted the issue of the inequity in the points system that was preventing large numbers of Northern Ireland students from coming South. This has now been fixed following the highlighting of the issue. We have put various scholarships in place. It would be a source of grave concern to us if, as a consequence of a hard Brexit, all the effort to attract these students from Northern Ireland, which is only an hour away, was nullified. In respect of academic staff, one of the great deficiencies is the fact that there is no mechanism for establishing North-South research centres. Again, this could create significant contributions to an all-island economy, as well as the mobility of staff back and forth.

I could keep elaborating on the potential opportunities, and there are many, but the single biggest challenge we must highlight is the constraint afforded by the absorbative capacity of the system here in many different ways. The committee has heard one of them discussed previously. It is the unsustainable funding model, as highlighted by the Cassells report. If this is not addressed, it will ultimately result in a significant drop in quality with consequent reputational damage. International students and international staff will not want to come here in such a situation. Insufficient capital funding to provide the necessary expansion and upgrade of teaching, learning and research infrastructure will have the same consequence. A very important issue, particularly for international students, is the inadequate supply of suitable and affordable accommodation for students. International students look for high-quality accommodation and often their decisions are made on the basis of that. As members are aware, we are already dealing with a significant challenge for our own students in Ireland.

We are trying to take advantage of the huge potential to attract international students by making Ireland what the HEA has called a "student talent magnet" but we do so in the face of an infrastructural deficit.

We are delighted that this committee is addressing and highlighting the issues and hopefully they will be incorporated into the Brexit negotiations. There are massive opportunities for the sector in terms of staff quality, research, the quality of students and the general benefits of internationalisation but there are huge challenges as regards absorptive capacity.

Ms Triona McCormack:

I will pick up on a couple of points made by Professor MacCraith but I want to focus on research and on the need for investment in the system, as well as staffing issues.

World-class research and the creation of knowledge is a borderless activity in which we are all engaged. International networks are incredibly important and UCD is no different from other Irish institutions in that the UK is our most significant and primary partner. Knowledge networks provide a shared resource base to create new insights, new products and the things that drive our economies and societies forward. It is important that we can manage and maintain those knowledge networks as we move into the future and, as a key partner, the UK is a significant part of that so we will have to look at bilateral arrangements if it is no longer part of the Horizon 2020 EU funding system, which has been the backbone of knowledge networks for the past number of years. In 2014-2015 the UK received over €1 billion in funding from that source, allowing it to employ 9,000 researchers. It is a really significant resource base that has allowed its economy to advance.

It is important to maintain our partnerships but Brexit also allows Irish universities an opportunity to access some of that funding. It is not inevitable, however, as there are competing member states and Germany, for example, is a high attractor of research funding, as are Italy, France and the Netherlands. It is critical to look at constraints within our own system, such as infrastructure and basic funding and, as Professor MacCraith said, absorptive capacity from the point of view of staffing, to enable us to capitalise on the opportunity. The priority given to research and innovation in Theresa May's statement on 17 January was very clear and the UK is steadfast in its belief in the value of funding for research and innovation. It has committed some of its own resources to make up for the gap. We need to be as steadfast in our belief in the importance of that funding and we need to make the necessary investments because they have real impacts.

Research funding can be seen in the context of the overall health of the economy and industry needs to maintain its export profile in the face of a very challenging Brexit environment. We have been looking at how we, as a public sector organisation, assist our industries to be more competitive in this space and move beyond commodity products, which are very important to some sectors such as the agrisector, which have been impacted by the weakness in sterling. The mushroom industry is a good example because 80% of sales are in the UK and it was called the earliest casualty of Brexit when a number of mushroom facilities shut down in October and November. One company, Monaghan Mushrooms, is surviving and, indeed, thriving and we have worked with the company to assess the impact of vitamin D in its mushrooms, which has given it a growth opportunity. We need to do such things with more of our industries to help Brexit-proof them and research and innovation is a means of doing that.

UCD has a significant international student base and 25%, or more than 7,000, of our students are from abroad but I echo the challenges mentioned by Professor MacCraith in infrastructure, the cost of living and the cost of housing. We have put an additional 350 units on our campus this year but it is a continuous challenge to meet the demands of new incoming students and that will continue to put pressure on the system. UCD is a research-intensive university with a highly international profile of both staff and students and we want to be part of capitalising on the opportunity that Brexit presents. We see ourselves as part of the Irish solution, North and South.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I come from a family who grew mushrooms in Kildare and when I was at college I was too well aware of the fluctuation in sterling and how much it meant for the money I got when I went back to college on a Sunday evening.

Mr. Ned Costello:

The big imponderable is how the UK disengages from the EU Single Market, in particular in the context of the four freedoms, namely, the free movement of people, capital, goods and services. We still do not know how this will turn out. The free movement of people is the one I would highlight because of its relevance to research and it will be critical to see how the UK engages with EU research programmes. Switzerland made proposals to change its immigration system and that had an immediate effect on its relationship with the EU in terms of its participation in the framework.

The Chairman mentioned the 11,000 students from Ireland studying in the UK, which represents over 6% of our own domestic student population. It amounts to a small university or a couple of medium-sized ITs. As Professor MacCraith said, if there is a significant perturbation of those numbers there will be major implications for the plans arising from the Cassells report. The number of UK students coming to Ireland increased by 38% between 2012 and 2015, possibly because of the £9,000 fee in the UK. However, the most up-to-date data from UCAS in the UK show that in academic year 2017-2018 there was a 10% decrease in applications to Ireland from England, Scotland and Wales and a further 18% reduction in the number of Irish students applying to UK universities. There are tangible impacts already.

We do not have data for the number of UK staff in Irish universities but there is a common labour market between Ireland and the UK for academic staff so this is a concern. We have a portal, universityvacancies.com, for jobs in academia.

What we have seen from that is that there was a significant increase month on month last year relative to the year before in the number of people hitting that portal from the UK. People are definitely looking to Ireland. We know that there are 2,300 Irish staff working in the UK. The position of these staff is obviously a concern.

Those are some of the downsides. As for the upsides, I will echo the comments that people have made. With regard to international students, international education is a big focus of Ireland's education strategy. We are definitely seeing numbers, which are in my opening statement, reflecting a lessening of interest from international non-EU students in the UK. That is absolutely a potential opportunity for Ireland. Again, I echo what has been said by other colleagues here in that the capacity of the system is an issue.

We need to see this in the overall context and in a supportive environment for higher education. We need a system in which we address the systemic funding issues and in which we need more flexibility on the staffing and regulation side. I should mention that because the UK system is much less regulated than our system, particularly when it comes to the autonomy of institutions in how they manage staffing contracts, remuneration architecture and all of that. We need that as well. We need some improvement on the sort of nexus between the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB, and the justice side of things in terms of stay-on opportunities for international students to capitalise on those students as well. We believe that a holistic package needs to be put together to capitalise fully on the opportunities and to counteract some of the very definite downsides that we can see emerging.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the witness. The whole area of visas and residents' permits are certainly critical in how we can attract more students, especially non-EU students. I ask Mr. John McGrane to make his submission.

Mr. John McGrane:

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. I feel like the man who, if he had more time, would have written a shorter letter in terms of the challenges of summarising. Understanding that all of the contributors here today share many points in common and that the data are also well understood, I will come at this from the point of view of the organisation that I have the privilege of leading.

The British Irish Chamber of Commerce is a trade body. We are for the championing of trade between the two islands, Britain and Ireland, and for the more than 400,000 jobs that are sustained by the trade corridor between the islands today. It is not just about employers and the employment creation, it is about what that does in civic society. It is those jobs and those investments by employers that create well-being throughout the two islands. It is about the security that it gives to all. I might extract one or two passages of relevance to that theme and then draw out a couple of observations.

In our submission, we noted from our perspective the huge powerhouse for research that is the UK. That is what is in play here alongside Ireland's response to it, which has been commented upon by the practitioners in the sector. I will insert one or two points. The UK is currently involved in more Horizon 2020 projects than any other country in Europe. Last year, UK universities received about £1 billion in research grants and contracts from EU sources. The most immediate impact of Brexit for the sector, as has been referenced, has been the anecdotal evidence that UK researchers have been dropped as partners from collaborative projects.

There are also collaborations between the UK and Ireland in this space. Collaborations between academics from different countries are immensely important as they tend to lead to research with greater impact. The Royal Society in the UK notes that between 2005 and 2014, there were 16,655 co-authored papers between academics in the UK and Ireland. As previously outlined, the biggest concern for the UK academic community is whether British academics will still be able to collaborate across EU borders with their European peers, including those in Ireland. UK and Irish research institutions also collaborate extensively under such programmes. There are currently in excess of 900 collaborative links under Horizon 2020. Since the commencement of Horizon 2020, 13% of all successfully funded Irish research projects have included at least one UK-based partner. In the past 12 months, that number has risen to about 40%. We are massively intertwined in these matters.

What would we say about all of that backdrop and the other things that have been submitted? The first thing we would say is that we should never waste a good crisis. We have a crisis. Our neighbour has a crisis of democratic making which now sees a trapping inside a walled UK economy and community of massive research power, intellectual property, operational knowledge and capability to collaborate. That is now trapped. It is not a long-term thing. It is not two years or ten years away. It is second only to foreign currency collapse and the effect on mushroom farmers on Ireland. This is one of the most immediate manifestations of the downside of Brexit for everybody involved, not just for the UK. It is not just anecdotal.

The patron of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce is Mr. Niall FitzGerald, one of Ireland's greatest living industrialists and employment creators, who careered in Unilever and chaired Reuters. What is little known, apart from his chairing of Munster Rugby, God bless him, is the fact that he is the president of the Leverhulme Trust, which curates a €4 billion legacy of Lord Lever, the soapmaker, to foster education and research in Britain. Parts of that €4 billion are dispensed every year to wonderful research projects, many of which collaborate with Irish researchers, Irish third level institutes and European institutes. In that capacity, Mr. FitzGerald would tell the committee that there is not a week that goes by in which he does not get a call from a vice chancellor in a UK university saying that they are in crisis, not two or ten years away but now, because researchers are feeling a very cold wind of change and feeling very unwelcome inside the UK today.

They are unwelcome. The question is: are we ready? As has been referenced by Mr. Brian MacCraith and others, there is a legitimate capacity question and a digestibility question here. We would go further. We were recently proud to take a request from the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Brendan Carr, to produce a small piece of work, both in literature form and in video form, called "Greater Dublin is Greater Than Ever", to counter a spinning campaign in the UK and beyond that says that Dublin and Ireland would not be ready to take investment by banks, educational establishments, other employment creators and other value creators and that we do not have enough offices, homes, a regulator with the right amount of will and capacity, and international baccalaureate schools.

These concerns have all been relayed to me personally inside meeting rooms in London and the rest of Britain. Most of it has some traceability to some anecdotal truth, but most of it is wrong in quantum, data and currency, as in, how current is the information. Most of it is outdated. Therefore, we have been telling people that Dublin does have offices and will have by the time they get here. We have been telling them that Dublin has educational capacity and it will have it by the time they get here. We have been telling them that it has international baccalaureate capacity coming on stream beyond the very good if small number of capacity institutions that are working here today. We are delighted to see that one particular promoting group is bringing on stream an 800-seat international baccalaureate school in Dublin in just over a year's time to commence in autumn 2018.

We feel the need not just to know that this is coming but to tell people that this is coming. The first thing is perception. Perception is creating its own reality. This is an immediate burning platform right now. Educators, researchers and funders will not wait around to know what happens to Ms Theresa May's two-year negotiation space, which is likely to be several years longer than that. We are in the business of dealing with the issues but being realistic about what is possible. We must allow ourselves to think inventively. There are many other people who do not have a solution in full right now. We should gather up our portfolio of reasons Ireland can be a solution to our neighbour's legitimate problem and create, as we have announced last week through a speech given by Mr. Niall FitzGerald as patron of the chamber, the concept of an Ireland and UK powerhouse. There is nothing against our European allegiance and credentials whatsoever in this.

It recognises that Ireland is a peripheral and geographically remote piece of the European Union; a small island behind a slightly larger island with which we always have shared geography and many other shared cultural and community links. We are not forgetting these factors and for the building on these in order see what the opportunities are. I will round out by saying that on this island 50 years ago a great man, Dr. T. K. Whitaker, stepped forward into the political and public service space at a time when as an island, a country and a people Ireland had far less resources and far more uncertainty than we have today, which is considerable. He refused to dream small; he thought big and delivered big with the Seán Lemass Administration and other good politicians around the whole of the public service at that time. He said that if Ireland did not think big it would lose big. At that stage Ireland had its young people leaving on the hoof alongside our cattle. One of the primary things championed by Dr. Whitaker was the investment in our education sector. As a result Ireland has now become one of the best performing economies in the world with a tremendous foreign direct investment strategy and the clustering of smaller business development around that. All of this is underpinned by a wonderful education system, which is challenged. We now need to think what is the opportunity and what would we do if we were told that we had six months in which to win the case to be the solution - or a significant part of the solution for our neighbour's problem. What would we do in six months, not six years or 16 years? Some things will take longer, and that is appropriate, but to take a national emergency and opportunity plan view from this situation we must ask what needs to be done and to go across the water with our friends and ask what will it take for Ireland to be the next best solution for a partner island that has a problem on its hands. Education, research and third level structuring is core to what lies next. As a trade body we are proud to be associated with the great education establishments of the State and we commit to working closely with them towards that end over the coming weeks and months.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Mr. McGrane. There is no doubt that Seán Lemass and T.K. Whitaker were great men with huge vision and commitment. They completely recognised the need for a very advanced education system to give everybody in Ireland the opportunity to achieve their potential through second and third level education. When Mr. McGrane made reference to these two men I was cognisant of the fact that Deputy Thomas Byrne, Senator Robbie Gallagher and I attended the funeral this morning of the daughter of Seán Lemass. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam. On behalf of the committee I wish to extend condolences to our colleague Deputy Seán Haughey and to the family.

I believe Mr. Godfrey or Mr. Mc Carthy will speak next.

Mr. Jeremy Godfrey:

I thank the Chairman and the members for this opportunity to give evidence today. The International School of Dublin is the only school in Ireland that offers the international baccalaureate curriculum at primary level. The International Baccalaureate's mission is to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect, as Professor MacCraith said when he spoke of the importance of international education.

I will now introduce myself. I relocated to Dublin three and a half years ago, after 20 years in Hong Kong, to take up a position in the public service in Ireland. In Hong Kong I was the chairman of two international schools in an environment where the international education sector was much more mature and developed than it is here. I am joined by my colleague Mr. Vincent Mc Carthy who is a member of the board of the International School of Dublin. In his day job Mr. Mc Carthy is the chief executive of the Festival of Curiosity.

I wish to speak on four points - why Brexit could increase demand for international school provision in Ireland; the current state of international school provision; how international education provision might evolve; and policy recommendations. We have some insights into the demand for international schooling from contacts with our parent body, contacts with multinational companies, chambers of commerce, embassies, IDA Ireland and through a research project we commissioned from Grant Thornton in 2016. A consistent message from all these sources is that when executives are offered the chance to relocate, apart from work considerations, housing and education for their children are the two most important considerations when deciding whether to take up a position. In our research we have heard anecdotal evidence of people who had turned down posts in Ireland because of the lack of what they considered to be suitable education for their children.

As a result of Brexit, Ireland will be competing with other EU economies for multinational operations relocating from the UK. Ireland's success in attracting this investment will partly depend on the ability to offer suitable educational options for the children of the executives who would come here. Our research suggests several characteristics of the ideal type of international school. One factor is that it would provide education from pre-kindergarten all the way through to sixth form because people come with children of different ages and they like to know that their children will be able to go to the same school, and that the schooling would be available as the children grow older. Another feature would be that the international baccalaureate is provided. As the gold standard programme offered around the world, people could be sure that if they come to Ireland and their children do the international baccalaureate here they could be prepared if their parents take another overseas posting, and they could take up the international baccalaureate again. The programme also has a very good record of preparing people to go back into national systems of education. Fees are another characteristic to be considered. People would like the fees for an international education to be comparable to those of other fee-paying schools in the Dublin area. They would like the school to be a not-for-profit school with a strong community spirit. They would also like an international school to be not just for international students with a leavening of about 25% to 35% of the school body to consist of local students, maybe returnees from the Irish diaspora or local families whose children might like to study overseas in the future and would like the international baccalaureate curriculum. This is an extremely important implication of Brexit for Ireland and being able to provide education for the children of relocating executives may be more an economic question than an educational one.

People may say that Ireland is not ready for this - as Mr. McGrane has said - and the current state of play is that Ireland is probably not ready. There is very limited provision of international baccalaureate education. We are the only primary school offering the programme and there is one secondary school offering the leaving certificate equivalent programme. There is a school in Greystones offering the middle-years programme but it is mostly targeted at Spanish students who come to Ireland for one year. Mr. McGrane made reference to a proposal for a through train international baccalaureate school in Leopardstown in the next year. In our view this is a very useful contribution to what Ireland needs but it will not, on its own, be sufficient because there is actually more demand for international school places. That school could be entirely filled by ex-patriot families who are currently in the State's education system and who might prefer to be at a school offering the international baccalaureate. There is a need for even more capacity than just one school.

We also believe that it is desirable that there should be a complementary role in international education for the not-for-profit sector. The not-for-profit sector has the mission of supporting all the educational needs of the foreign direct investment families, irrespective of whether it is particularly profitable. It would tend to keep fees a bit lower and it would be easier to generate the community spirit.

Having spoken with IDA Ireland we are also very conscious that it is not all about Dublin. There is a need to get foreign investment to come to other regions. While we believe that Dublin is the first priority it is not the only priority and it would be very desirable to expand international education to the regions. Our vision is for a number of international baccalaureate schools in Dublin and elsewhere. Some of these might be stand-alone schools and some might share facilities with local schools or with schools offering the national curriculum of France or Germany. There are a number of different possibilities. As the charity that runs the International School of Dublin we are looking at expanding our mission to have a wider promotion of the international baccalaureate in Ireland and to change our name to reflect that.

I shall conclude with some policy recommendations. Reference was made to what I might like to see happening in the next two months. To help the not-for-profit sector in expanding schools it would be very desirable if the Government could identify a site in Dublin for a second international baccalaureate school and to invite proposals from the not-for-profit sector to operate a school on that site. There would also be a need for a little bit of money to help fund the start-up costs or expansion costs to cover the other curriculums.

That could be by way of a loan. International schools, even in the not-for-profit sector, can be self sustaining over time, and a loan could begin to be repaid after four or five years.

It would be useful to have a study on the demand for international education outside Dublin. The Grant Thornton report carried out really focused on Dublin, but I think if we want to promote the international baccalaureate outside Dublin some information on the demands would be useful.

I would also say that attracting local students into these schools is very desirable from a social point of view. However, there is a problem with the way the the international baccalaureate is valued as an entrance qualification for Irish universities. Professor MacCraith spoke about Northern Irish qualifications. We have exactly the same problem with the international baccalaureate. The perception is that Irish parents would be mad to send their children to an international baccalaureate school if the eventual aim was to get entrance to an Irish university via the CAO system.

Brexit does present some challenges, but the foundations are in place to meet the challenges. With leadership and collaboration we can create an environment for international education that is attractive for new investment and invigorating for society. We have supplied a more detailed briefing paper, and we are happy to answer questions.

Dr. Graham Love:

I thank the Chairman for the invitation to attend. Mindful that I am the last speaker and that there are some points very strongly in common with the previous speakers my opening statement will be further cut down. We have provided our paper from last October which talks about the pros and cons and opportunities. I would like to highlight a few things. The key concerns around Brexit for higher education and research, as were outlined in that paper, are student mobility and residency rules, international education programmes, academic professional mobility and recruitment, and research collaboration and funding. Challenges identified include that we will not have exclusive opportunities as others are looking at this; the fact that many European countries are building up English language provision; the visibility of Ireland - I sometimes think that we kid ourselves on this because yes, some of our nearer neighbours are very aware, but for others we are not necessarily seen in as a single independent entity; the points made around absorptive capacity limitations that several of my colleagues have made; and the historic lack of investment in the Irish higher education and research system.

Fundamentally we believe that higher education and research should feature as a central component of Ireland's Brexit strategy. I want to be very clear on that. A high quality higher education and research sector can make a significant contribution to boosting the international standing of Ireland for the benefit of Irish society and economy. Stronger links between higher education research and Irish small and medium enterprise, particularly in regions outside Dublin, can help to cushion the impact of Brexit in the short term and boost competitiveness in the long term. There is evidence that suggests that international students bring a significant multiplier effect, with some estimates suggesting it is in the region of €1.4 billion to €1.5 billion per annum.

We have an opportunity to globally position Ireland as a distinctive high-quality, international hub for higher education and research by boosting investment in higher education and research to send a strong message that Ireland is back in business after a decade of austerity, identifying and developing new partnerships with other EU higher education institutions, and attracting large EU flagship projects or centres to Ireland.

Irish higher education and research can be a talent magnet, attracting the best students, academics and researchers for the benefit of Irish society and economy through targeted initiatives to provide opportunities for the recruitment of international students, academic staff and researchers and professionals seeking to relocate here, and potentially exploring new contractual arrangements to encourage and facilitate Irish and international researchers across all disciplines. Particularly important will be the launch of the International Education Mark as part of a concerted effort to promote the quality of the Irish higher education and research system internationally.

In closing I would like to leave the committee with one unambiguous message. Higher education and research, with the right inputs - and I emphasise that - represents a major opportunity for Ireland in facing Brexit.

I am relatively new here but my colleague, Gemma Irvine, from the HEA, and the chair of the Irish Research Council, Jane Ohlmeyer, are also present.

Professor Jane Ohlmeyer:

I do not want to repeat what has been said but perhaps I will say a few things that have not been said. I would like to make a point around the formulation of research policy, because with Brexit Ireland loses a very important ally in Brussels, and this could shape the future development of the research and education agenda. That is something that we need to be extremely mindful of as we are having these conversations.

I would like to focus for a moment on shaping Ireland as the country of choice for the best researchers, because it would be useful to remind ourselves that we have a tremendous opportunity here. To echo what Dr. Love has just said, we may not be ready now, but with relatively modest investment we could well be ready within the next 18 months. We need to focus on investment in the window that we have. The truth is that our research ecosystem is currently very unbalanced as a result of austerity, and that our higher education institutions are chronically under-funded. If we are willing to accept that and actually invest we can create an environment that is extremely attractive to researchers who are refugees from Brexit, and also refugees from Trump's America. I realise that that is not the focus of our discussions today. It is about being a magnet for global talent not just talent displaced by Brexit. However, that means investment in the research ecosystem, encompassing applied research and, importantly, basic frontier research. I draw attention to the fact that the Minister for Education, Deputy Bruton, has earmarked money to allow the Irish Research Council to develop a frontiers programme, which we very much hope will attract global talent, including talent from the UK, as well as support our own researchers to be better placed to compete, especially in drawing down Horizon 2020 funding.

What would success look like? How do we know that we have actually done something significant here? What that means for me is increased draw-down of European funding, through Horizon 2020 and the European Research Council. That will be one big indicator. If we invest now our draw-down will increase. The global rankings of Irish universities will be improved. Nobody has mentioned that, but as much as we all hate them they are a reality we are stuck with. They are extremely influential in terms of people deciding to come to Ireland and invest in Ireland. If we can attract the best researchers we will without a doubt improve the rankings of our institutions, which then increases our global profile.

I would like to echo the point that Dr. Love made that Ireland has poor visibility globally. However, if we attract the best researchers, educators and students internationally, that really helps to mark us out as an educational and research hub of global significance. For me, that is the prize. With focused investment over the next 18 months all of this is achievable. I am coming at this from a research perspective, but the whole thing is an integrated ecosystem. We cannot just invest in one bit - we have to start at the bottom.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the witnesses for their contributions today. On procurement, is there anything to be said about Irish universities buying lab equipment or items like that from abroad? Has that been costed, and will it be affected by procurement?

Do the witnesses expect that the number of English students coming to Ireland to study will be reduced because they will no longer be able to avail of free EU fees? Will this have an impact on the relationship between England and Ireland?

In the next few weeks, do the witnesses intend to recommend where the money provided by the Exchequer-employer investment mechanism should be allocated? It seems that we need capital and space if we want to accommodate researchers, their staff and an influx of students. Let us assume that the Exchequer-employer investment funding will be increased. It is does not make sense to allocate it in respect of capital projects if we want to prepare for Brexit over the next six months.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank everybody for their presentations. I apologise for my brief absence at the start of the meeting. The committee will probably debate this matter over the next two years. We will not know what is going to happen in terms of all of the individual issues until negotiations start.

Brexit poses opportunities and challenges and there will be wins and losses. More money is needed to fund the third-level sector, the education system in general and the international school that was mentioned. I will monitor Brexit very closely and carefully. I hope that enough opportunities will arise to counteract the challenges. My biggest priority, as a member of the Dáil and this committee, will be funding because, as has been said, we will not be able to attract high-calibre people to this country unless our system is up to scratch. Everyone will agree that the education system is not up to scratch. I have no doubt that the committee will engage with the witnesses again on Brexit and on many other issues.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I shall follow on from the point that Senator Ruane made about fees. When English students come here to study and when Irish students go to England, they pay the same fees as their counterparts in both jurisdictions. Following Brexit, will English students be considered international students and be obliged to pay higher fees?

I want to ask about the recognition of qualifications. Students who study pharmacy in the UK or wherever must undertake a course in UCC which, on graduation, will lead to their qualifications being recognised. Will Brexit prevent a number of qualifications from being recognised? A number of nurses have been sent to the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London to receive specific training to work in the national children's hospital. Will their UK qualifications be recognised here? Brexit will have an impact on fees for education and on the recognition of qualifications.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I, too, welcome all of the witnesses. Their contributions have been uplifting. When Brexit is discussed, usually all one hears about are people's concerns and the negative impact it will have on the economy. It is great to hear that Brexit will provide opportunities for the education sector. The challenge is how best to package such opportunities and make them a positive reality for this country. The old adage that one must speculate to accumulate springs to mind. The contributions made here today are especially important and many good points have been put forward. Is there a mechanism whereby all of the delegations present can feed into a central point to harness and package their positive ideas and suggestions together? Does such a mechanism exist?

The witnesses mentioned that funding is needed immediately in order for us to benefit. Is there a figure for same? Have the witnesses heard positive sounds from the Department that the amount they suggested will be provided? I am not being political when I say that we are only fooling ourselves if we do not get the funding. We must grasp the opportunities presented by Brexit or they will pass us by. It is vitally important that the delegations have a platform and that their message is listened to and acted upon. If, as Deputy Thomas Byrne said, over the next year to 18 months they find that this is not the case, then we need to hear about it because we need to ensure that all opportunities are grasped.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Offaly, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank all of the witnesses for attending and for their good and insightful presentations. Professor MacCraith mentioned all of the advances that have been made in terms of the McAleese scholarships, ERASMUS funding and the position relating to CAO points being rectified in order to be fair to students from the Six Counties. We need to protect the many advances that have been made in these areas. My party and I feel that a designated special status for the Six Counties is the way forward because it would protect all of the gains that have been made in the sector. Brexit may jeopardise funding for students with disabilities from the Twenty-six Counties who have chosen to study in the Six Counties or the UK. We must examine these issues and reach a conclusion in respect of them. I would like to hear the views of the representatives about a designated special status.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Before I go to the witnesses, I shall make a point. It is clear that maintaining the common travel area is a priority on every level. The common travel area is equally important for the education sector as it is for trade and business.

I agree with Senator Maria Byrne that it is essential that the European qualifications framework continues to be recognised, particularly as it affects students here and abroad. A hard Brexit would have massive implications for the ERASMUS programme. We cannot forget the ongoing collaboration regarding INTERREG funding. It is quite significant and we do not want to lose same.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am sorry but I must leave to speak at another forum. I shall miss hearing the replies but I will research them later.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is fine. For brevity, not everybody needs to speak on all of the issues raised. Comments are welcome if witnesses feel they can make a further contribution. We could literally debate this matter for another five hours, which would be interesting and exciting because we have had a hugely enthusiastic and positive session so far. I call on Professor MacCraith to commence.

Professor Brian MacCraith:

I shall make two points. A number of the questions share a common theme.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source


Professor Brian MacCraith:

We support the call for a designated special status from the North-South and east-west or UK perspectives because, as Senator Ruane and others mentioned, people move in both directions. It is difficult to predict how Brexit will pan out. We would support having minimum perturbation about the situation.

I shall make a final point on the notion of providing a large financial injection in order to grasp opportunities generated by Brexit. The last time this happened in Ireland was during the 1999-2000 period. A research programme was introduced in third level institutions that was funded by a combination of money provided by Chuck Feeney's Atlantic Philanthropies and a matching amount from the State. Before the programme started, Ireland was ranked below Bangladesh in global ratings for science research. Ireland is now consistently ranked in the top 12 in the world and we are in the top five in a number of key areas. This success was generated by a recognition that we had a massive infrastructural deficit. There was a competitive process and Irish universities were encouraged to work together to put a programme in place. The research programme is an example of the impact an injection of funding can have on a system. The establishment of a research programme propelled Ireland from nowhere - from league division three to the premier league. The combination of that with what Science Foundation Ireland has done with human capital is what turned the country around. All of that to which I refer is ageing and further investment in it has not been forthcoming. Brexit will provide us with a massive second opportunity and a similar scale of investment will again be required.

Mr. Ned Costello:

I shall respond briefly to the good point made about procurement. For the information of the committee, as part of the Office of Government Procurement, we have responsibility for the procurement of all lab and diagnostic equipment for the education sector overall. We do this through the Education Procurement Service, which is located at the University of Limerick.

I do not have the data to hand but I can certainly supply a note to the committee on how exposed we are to the UK. It is certainly true to say that research and laboratory equipment is so specialised that the vast majority of it would be imported. That speaks to the point that if we end up in a situation involving tariffs, that will push costs up. We have a very good global procurement system but if we are buying specialised items from the UK which cannot be obtained anywhere else, there will be cost implications.

In response to the question on submissions to the Department on the employer funding mechanism, we will be making a submission on that. The capital issue is an interesting one. The national training fund is a recurrent fund. As far as the physical infrastructure element of capital is concerned, higher education was incredibly badly treated in the last round of capital disbursement. In that context, the current capital review will be very important both for the physical capital element but also for research. We have a very fine strategy in Innovation 2020 but there is no money in it. Research funding is denominated as capital and it has to feature strongly in the capital review.

Mr. John McGrane:

I strongly support all of the points made today and have a number of brief observations to make. On funding, all of the work has been done on funding previously. We have the Cassells report on the matter. To be fair to Members of the Oireachtas, it is really important that we take that report and do something with it. There is no other report to be had. We cannot continue with deferral but must work together and make some tough decisions. What better time to make them than when we have a crisis-opportunity on our hands?

INTERREG funding was mentioned. I had the privilege of visiting Swansea University two weeks ago, which is one of the six universities - three Irish and three British - taking part in the CALIN programme. That programme is supported by €12 million of INTERREG funds for small, emergent life-science firms, of which we have many because of our strong and embedded life sciences sector, born of education and FDI. The programme will enable the next generation of employment and well being creators to come through, using research in Irish and UK universities. Part of the issue is that not many people are aware that we are doing such things to champion the sustaining of them.

Lastly, on a generic issue around Brexit, the process is set down. It is tedious, politically divisive and so forth but it is very important that Ireland, as one of the EU 27, negotiating through the Council with the UK, has its distinct voice on what is important. We understand that Ireland cannot have a side deal but Ireland is a fully paid up member of the EU. In terms of education, research and all other sectors of our society, Ireland needs to have its point of view laid out very clearly. There are two immediate issues that must be put on the table. One is the transition regime. We argued earlier about the extraordinary urgency in this particular sector but there are other matters and other influences that bear on people who say that in two year's time, as per the process, if there is no deal then the UK is gone. That just raises the fear factor for researchers, educational establishments, funders and so forth. The very first issue that must be dealt with across all interests is to voice the absolute importance of extending a transition regime and not playing the game that says, "If you don't agree within two years, you're out." That achieves nothing. Everybody will lose in those circumstances.

The other factor, which is particularly pertinent to education and research, is immigration. The referendum was fundamentally about immigration in the UK and the European Union's view on free movement. Europeans do not call it immigration, they call it free movement. Educators also call it free movement - of talent, capability and joint intelligence. We need, as a country, to take the initiative and to champion the importance of the issue of free movement and immigration being on the table early rather than late. This is the factor that is chilling the environment inside the UK and risking the loss of significant talent, not just for the UK but for Ireland as well. We need to talk about a transition regime and immigration and free movement early in the process, not later on.

Professor Jane Ohlmeyer:

I wish to respond to the fees issue as raised by Deputy Thomas Byrne and Senator Lynn Ruane. The reality we are facing is that a student from the South who is studying in the North will be treated as non-EU and vice versa. That prospect fills me with horror because the non-EU fee is between three to five times greater than the EU fee. This is where the Government could be helpful in really trying to ensure that at least on the island of Ireland there is a single fee for students studying in Belfast or Dublin. That would be a really helpful thing to do. Ideally, we would want it to be east, west as well as North, South but we will have to work very hard to achieve that.

On the point made by Deputy Carol Nolan about the possibility of a special provision for researchers in the North, it should be noted that the Irish Research Council currently funds students on a pan-island basis. We would intend to continue that, come what may. Ideally, we would want to continue to fund students coming from the UK as well. A lot of our money goes into early career researchers, that is, PhD students and post-doctoral students. We feed the talent pipeline and would like that to continue, subject to an adequate budget being in place and certainly North-South, that has to be a priority for us.

On Senator Gallagher's question of whether we speak with one voice, sadly the answer is "No". The Senator also asked whether there is a mechanism allowing the sector to speak with one voice but I am not aware of one. What I am aware of is the fact that there are conversations going on in the Department of Education and Skills, the Higher Education Authority, the Irish Universities Association and elsewhere. The Royal Irish Academy has just established two Brexit committees. I am chairing the one for the South and there is another one in the North. We have a proliferation of people thinking about this and we are all coming to the same conclusion. Having a mechanism to bring all of these voices together would be extremely helpful because on this occasion, everyone wants the same thing. In that way, we could influence policy makers here and in Brussels. We must be very cognisant of the importance of making our case to our European colleagues. Anything that allows us to speak with one voice at a policy level would be extremely valuable.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

On that point, there certainly is a lot of commonality in terms of what we are looking for and this committee is very cognisant of the need to hear the European voice. We did try to get someone from the EU to take part in this process. That said, this is only the start of the engagement that the witnesses will have with this committee and I would hope that they will see this committee as a way of facilitating the discussion. As Deputy Thomas Byrne has said, we will have to convene again, perhaps six months from now, to see where things stand at that point. We might listen to some other voices at that point too.

On the North-South question, we must identify potential areas for all-island research collaboration. Areas like the agrifood sector, for example, are vitally important. If we do that collectively and start the work on that, other areas could come in behind that.

Dr. Graham Love:

I will pick up on the key point arising from Senator Robbie Gallagher's question. The paper presented to the committee today is the product of a round table meeting of key stakeholders which took place last November. We will commit to running that again in the near term and I would suggest that this committee invites us back to relay the outcome of that round table. We are getting more clarity here. While it is still not absolutely clear, we are gaining clarity on the Brexit situation.

To pick up on the capital versus recurrent issue, it is difficult not to say "both". Capacity issues were a key theme here today. There is certainly a need for some basic level of capital investment to allow the human capital that we need flow through the system.

Third, several people mentioned INTERREG. A week and a half ago, while I was still in my previous job as head of the Health Research Board, I signed off on a €9 million deal for clinical trials in the community in the Border counties, which will give access to people in the community to medicines and medical devices and put Ireland further onto that innovation map that is the product of the INTERREG programme. It will be €5 million to the North and €3.5 million to the South. I reiterate the key need to keep access to that type of funding.

Mr. Vincent McCarthy:

To refer again to the Senator's point about collective idea gathering, I have only been involved in the International School Dublin for the past year. I am the chief executive of a not-for-profit charity, The Festival of Curiosity. It is easy for me, as the chief executive of a charity, to approach the system and get funding through Science Foundation Ireland. It is much more difficult for the International School Dublin. It is sometimes seen as a foreign direct investment, FDI, challenge or an educational challenge and where the school approaches, one ends up going around the houses to all these different people and sometimes by the time one gets back to them they have changed. The system does not necessarily have the capacity to understand the strategic challenge of international education at the primary and secondary level through the international baccalaureate.

Brexit give us a chance to look at this challenge through a strategic lens for the first time and we in the International School Dublin can provide the challenges and the opportunity. We can do costings but a shift in our language is very important. We are talking about investment in third level, which is blue-skies research but does give social and economic benefit down the line. With the International School Dublin and the International Education Foundation of Ireland, which it will become, we are talking about an investment in a property but also in the children who attend it, the families who come to Ireland and the communities we will create across the country. Once we get into that language and set up those mechanisms that we would love to contribute to, we can start reframing Brexit in terms of how we can tackle these challenges in a way that sets us up for the future beyond Brexit, not just for the next two years.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is a fair point, having had a meeting with IDA Ireland last week on attracting it to Kildare and out of Dublin. Going through the issues, and education being one of them, I have family members who live abroad and I see how they make their choices in terms of their children. Having seen the Sundai school experience just outside Newbridge, which worked incredibly well for a number of years for the children of Japanese businesspeople who were based not just in Ireland but throughout Europe, it is a valid argument in terms of everything we are discussing with regard to Brexit, jobs etc.

Professor Brian MacCraith:

On a point of information regarding international schools, the international baccalaureate, IB, schools offer a huge opportunity and an excellent curriculum. The same process the universities used to change the points equivalents for A-levels for Northern Ireland students is in the pipeline to address that inequity in the IB schools so that parents can look forward to a fairer system in terms of points.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Professor MacCraith for that.

Ms Triona McCormack:

I will make a brief point which might address what Senator Gallagher was talking about but also the skills agenda the Chairman mentioned in the context of jobs. We talked earlier about the fact that there are openings now at the Commission's negotiating table. We had always looked to the United Kingdom as a friendly face at the negotiating table. A gap is opening up. Others will fill the gap. The UK were heavily positioning themselves around the digital and cloud strategy in the European Union. That plays to Ireland's strengths. We can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and try to attract infrastructure investment, as well as research funding while developing a very strong skill base for our future ICT sector. The questions might be about the opportunity and the cost, but we need to look at this is in terms of the return.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We are all very positive. We all recognise the challenges we face but also the opportunities. The message is that Ireland, and our education system, is open for business but we need huge investment in it.

To address the point Mr. McGrane made about the Cassells report, we are not dragging our heels on it. We are awaiting two pieces of research, one of which is on the technical impact, particularly regarding the income contingent loan. That is not to suggest we are going down that road but as a committee we felt we needed some technical report on that, so two different reports have been commissioned. We have looked for video conferencing with a number of other countries that have brought in that system. We await that. This is such an important decision we need to have as much information as possible but at the same time we are urging the Government to make as much investment as possible at this time while it awaits our recommendations on it.

I thank all the witnesses for coming in today. It was a very interesting discussion. I appreciate their insights, observations and recommendations. It was interesting to hear what they are doing within their own organisations in terms of dealing with what is ahead of all of us. I look forward to an engagement at another level and if they want to make any written submissions at a later stage we would welcome that. I also appreciate what Dr. Love said that there will be another round-table discussion because as this process is evolving, more clarity will emerge so it is important that every six months there is an opportunity to do that, to learn from one another and explore what we can say as one voice. Obviously, there will be some differences. The witnesses represent unique organisations that sometimes compete within the same sphere. That is the case with me and my political colleagues also.

The joint committee adjourned at 7.07 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 4 April 2017.