Implications for Ireland of the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU in Regard to the Education and Research Sector

As the Chairman, Senator Richmond, is not available today, he has asked me to be the temporary Chair. Is that agreed? Agreed.

We have received apologies from the Chairman, Senator Neale Richmond, and Senators Niall Ó Donnghaile and Ian Marshall. I remind members to ensure their mobile phones are switched off. This is important because it causes serious problems for broadcasting, editorial and sound staff.

I welcome representatives from Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Universities Association here today to update the committee on the implications of Brexit for the education and research sector and preparations for Brexit. This is an important sector for Ireland and I know members of the committee are interested in our guests' assessments.

Before we begin, I have to remind everyone of the rules on privilege. 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 Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

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. 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. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I ask Professor Ferguson and Dr. Keating to make their opening statements. I am sure committee members will have questions and comments thereafter.

Professor Mark Ferguson

I thank the Acting Chair and the members of the committee for the invitation to be here. I have produced a written statement so I propose to give only a short summary to leave the maximum amount of time for questions.

Since I last appeared before this committee, Science Foundation Ireland has put in place a number of administrative arrangements between the UK and Ireland to foster bilateral collaboration between the two countries. Those arrangements are detailed in my statement and I will not go through them here, but in summary, all of the arrangements are in place. We have made investments to stimulate those and what will be required is further funding to take forward those bilateral relationships.

There are few opportunities emerging from Brexit but one of them is the opportunity to recruit outstanding people. We have already been successful in doing that. Recruiting outstanding researchers is very important, not just for the academic sector but for the economy. They are stars and attract companies, allow for collaboration with companies and build excellence. I particularly single out the recruitment of Professor Seamus Davis, who is a joint appointment between the University of Oxford and University College Cork. That is an opportunity to recruit someone of an outstanding calibre.

There will be further such opportunities and it is important that we take advantage of them because most of Brexit is about mitigating damage and there are relatively few areas in which we may gain some advantage. Bilateral collaboration is important.

I would especially like to single out the necessity of doing things with Northern Ireland. There are no North-South collaborative research programmes. There were previously, but they fell apart when the Northern Ireland Executive did because they were not a line item in the Northern Ireland budget and therefore the civil servants could not allocate the UK money. We have submitted proposals to strengthen North-South research collaboration through centres. Those submissions are with the Irish and UK Governments and that is an important area for us to look at post Brexit.

My statement gives the committee the up-to-date data on the European programmes within Horizon 2020. The high-level summary is that Ireland is on track to draw down more funding than we put in for the first time. While that is good, approximately 10% of our collaborations are with the UK. Should the UK crash out of the European Union without a deal regarding research collaboration, it will not be eligible for those programmes and we will have to look therefore at bilateral ways of collaborating with the UK. The administrative arrangements are in there but the budget is not because, of course, they are currently paid for out of the EU budget and, in the future, after Brexit, they would have to be paid for by Ireland and the UK separately. That is another important issue to be looking at.

We strongly support the proposal from the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce to establish a UK-Ireland research and innovation fund. We also hope that research and innovation will be covered in the contingency fund that was allocated in yesterday's budget. We are respectful of the fact that there are many small businesses and farms in Border regions that need to be protected but there are some things in the research and innovation space that also require attention. One or two of those, as I have outlined, are opportunities.

I will stop there and leave the maximum amount of time for questions.

Dr. Lisa Keating

I thank the Acting Chair and committee members for inviting the Irish Universities Association to come and speak today. I will recap on the points in our statement about research and my colleague, Mr. Lewis Purser, will pick up on the education piece in particular. A lot of what I have to say will reflect what Professor Ferguson has said.

Higher education and research are vital to the Irish economy and play a role in protecting us from global crises. Ireland's economic success is dependent on our capacity to compete globally in a fiercely competitive knowledge economy.

As Professor Ferguson has said, it is well recognised that our pool of high-quality talent and our capacity for innovation at a global competitive level is central to that achievement. Universities are the engine rooms for the production and nurturing of talent and the cutting edge research and innovation that takes place therein.

In the early 2000s, Irish universities experienced an unprecedented investment in higher education and research that approached that of their competitors in Europe, and Ireland thrived on the global stage. Two of our universities moved into the top 100 and, due to the work of Science of Foundation Ireland and the Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions, PRTLI, Ireland was ranked tenth in the scientific rankings, its first time in the top ten.

That period of investment in higher education was sufficient to guide us through the worst years of recession. Our highly qualified graduates, the knowledge transfer from research and development activity and the university-industry partnerships played a significant role in our knowledge-led economic recovery.

With the UK's impending departure from the European Union, we are now faced with another crisis in which higher education and research again have a significant role to play. There are several challenges and threats, as Professor Ferguson outlined, but there are opportunities, too, in research and higher education, which is not often said in reference to Brexit. One of the main challenges is that if the UK does exit without a deal, the impact on Horizon 2020 will be significant. The UK is Ireland's largest collaborator on research documents, with more than 15,000 publications jointly held. In the €80 billion research programme under Horizon 2020, it is our third largest collaborator. There will be difficulties with the current projects we hold with our UK partners and in all future applications to Horizon 2020 and its successor, Horizon Europe. In addition, we will lose the UK as a strategic partner in influencing the agenda for European programme funding. Overall, there could be a reduction in the amount of funding that is available as a consequence of the budget reductions that will be made under Horizon Europe.

One of the greatest opportunities arising out of Brexit is the possibility to attract and recruit outstanding talent, not only from the UK but internationally. While it is helpful that we are an English-speaking country, for many researchers and top academics, a national funding system that values basic and applied research and provides appropriate facilities for researchers is also key. Several considerations come into play when researchers are considering moving their laboratories and small businesses to Ireland. Unfortunately, the recent decline in rankings and other indicators for the higher education sector means that Ireland is no longer seen as positively in some quarters as it was in the past. In particular, it is viewed as inferior to our competitors in Germany, France and the Scandinavian countries. This makes it more difficult to attract the top talent.

Along with the specific measures that Science Foundation Ireland and other funders and Government agencies have been putting in place, including bilateral agreements and specific actions, we are asking that in order to keep pace with our competitors, we do everything possible to achieve the national target of 2.5% of GDP for research and development. We are particularly focused on the Exchequer element of that funding, that is, the amount of moneys that go through public funds into research and development through Science Foundation Ireland and other agencies.

Mr. Lewis Purser

I will elaborate further on some of the challenges and opportunities for the universities as we face into Brexit. In the 2017-2018 year, there were almost 9,600 Irish-domiciled students enrolled in UK universities, which is equivalent to the size of Maynooth University or two average Irish institutes of technology. The UK has traditionally served as a safety valve for capacity issues in Irish higher education both in terms of our overall student numbers and in specialised fields of study where our domestic provision is limited or, in some cases, non-existent. The figures decreased significantly in recent years due to the increase in student fees in England and Wales from 2012 onwards. There has been an even more significant decline since 2016, in all probability due to Brexit. On the other side, in 2018 we had just over 2,500 students from the UK in Irish higher education, 864 of whom were from Northern Ireland. We place particular value on North-South and east-west student mobility in the higher education sector. However, these numbers have likewise decreased significantly since 2016. This year, applications from Northern Ireland students were down a further 18%, while those from students in Great Britain had reduced by an additional 13%. Brexit has effectively wiped out the gains we made up to 2016 in terms of increasing cross-border student mobility. This is a huge challenge for Ireland strategically. While the reduction in cross-border student mobility is exacerbated by Brexit, the UK's departure from the EU will also have long-term detrimental effects on all-island co-operation, our social and economic interactions with our nearest neighbours and general good neighbourliness across these islands. That is a significant challenge for the future.

The IUA welcomes the Irish and UK Governments' memorandum of understanding, MoU, signed in May this year, which guarantees that the reciprocal rights and privileges offered by the common travel area will continue after the UK leaves the EU. Those rights and privileges include in the area of education and training, employment and so on. However, that overarching memorandum was due to be followed up with a sectoral-specific memorandum between the two Governments which would ensure that Irish students who study in the UK in the future will continue to be subject to the same financial terms and conditions, including eligibility for grants and loans, as UK students, and vice versa for UK students studying in Ireland, including eligibility for Student University Support Ireland, SUSI, grants. That sectoral MoU has not been finalised. To address the associated uncertainty for students and their families, we request the select committee's assistance in ensuring that the proposed sectoral MoU between the Irish and UK Governments on student fees and supports is finalised and signed as soon as possible. Failing that, the universities request that unilateral steps be taken by Ireland to guarantee that UK students coming here for the purposes of higher education, particularly Northern Ireland students, are eligible for free tuition and SUSI grants on the same terms as are Irish students. In addition, students who are affected by Brexit in terms of fees and lack of grants should be priority recipients of the contingency Brexit fund that was announced yesterday by the Government. Their livelihoods and futures are directly affected, and it would be a suitable way of investing some of that money in the future of our young people.

The Irish universities are experiencing a healthy and welcome increase in demand from students in other EU countries, which is good for diversity on campuses and allows Irish students to study and work alongside colleagues from different cultures, thereby preparing them for a diverse future. However, these increases in EU applications alongside the reduction in the numbers of Irish students moving to the UK are likely to put further pressure on existing infrastructure in Irish higher education institutions.

While the broader impact of Brexit on the Irish economy is as yet unknown and could be very significant, it is highly likely that it will also have a detrimental effect on Exchequer income and, hence, on the Government's ability to fund public services such as higher education and research. However, as Professor Ferguson and Dr. Keating outlined, in the most recent economic downturn, the knowledge-intensive economy was key to a rapid recovery. The Government should protect and, indeed, boost investment in higher education and research in order to ensure the substantial economic and social dividends such investment is guaranteed to return in the medium to long term.

Brexit does present some opportunities for the higher education sector in Ireland. It is resulting in a greater number of European and international students applying to study in Ireland, as I outlined. We have opportunities to expand Irish participation in the Erasmus+ programme, particularly if the UK is no longer such an active player. There are large numbers of students from other EU countries who will seek to take a year or several years of their degree programmes in an English-speaking institution. However, we come back to the problem of lack of capacity in a scenario where there are additional EU and non-EU students seeking to study here. Given the ongoing healthy growth in domestic student numbers, any growth in the numbers of international students, many of whom are highly qualified and fluent in English, brings the risk of displacement of less competitive domestic students. In order to overcome these capacity issues, we encourage the Government to put in place a sustainable funding model for higher education and to plug the funding gap over a series of budgets.

We thank the committee for offering us the chance to present a brief overview of the main challenges and opportunities raised by Brexit from the perspective of the Irish universities. The issues we have outlined highlight the need for a sustainable funding model and a significant increase in Irish expenditure on research and innovation if we are to overcome the challenges that arise and capitalise on the few opportunities that are available. We would be delighted to discuss these and any other relevant issues with the committee.

Before I proceed to members, I have a couple of questions. Mr. Purser mentioned a memorandum of understanding regarding the common travel area and student and staff mobility. It does not currently have a basis in law in this country. Considering the current uncertainty, is this enough reassurance for members of the Irish Universities Association or do we need specific legislation to provide for the education and research sector in a no-deal scenario? I know Mr. Purser talks about the outstanding need for a memorandum of understanding with regard to the financial treatment of students. Likewise, I presume we will need some legislation once that is in place. On 31 October, what will happen to Irish students in Britain and British students here? What will happen to people getting grants in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

Mr. Purser has described how much science and research in the UK and Ireland seems to be worked on bilaterally rather than through EU programmes such as Horizon 2020. How does Mr. Purser envisage that Brexit could impact on bilateral Ireland-UK research programmes? Will Professor Ferguson describe the scope for Ireland to increase its collaboration with other European and international partners through European and bilateral programmes?

Mr. Lewis Purser

The Chair has raised an important point, that the common travel area does not, by my understanding, have a basis in Irish law. It was built up from years of custom and practice. I understand that as part of the Government's Brexit preparations, some elements are prepared to be placed on a legal footing. I do not know whether that will be entirely necessary to ensure normal mobility of individuals across these islands, but it might well be to ensure employment and residency rights. With regard to students, we could, if and when the UK leaves the European Union, with or without a deal, unilaterally write UK students into the various Government schemes, such as the free fee scheme or the Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, scheme, which is renewed annually. Our Government could do that.

The UK has committed to continue to fund European students, including Irish students, who are currently in UK higher education for the continuation of their studies. I believe it has already issued a guarantee for students who might enter next year. Beyond that, it is anyone's guess. The Irish Government has issued a guarantee to UK students who started this year for the duration of their normal study period of three or four years, but it is anyone's guess from next year on. This uncertainty makes it difficult for young people and their families to plan and it contributes significantly to the fall-off in student mobility. It may need to be written into legislation or into secondary documentation such as the SUSI scheme or internal documentation between the Departments of Finance and Education and Skills. I imagine the latter is necessary but that is entirely within the gift of the Government.

Professor Mark Ferguson

I can address the question on research. If the UK leaves without a deal, the UK Government has committed to fund the UK component of Horizon 2020 and the existing European programmes. If it honours that commitment, then those existing programmes should proceed to the end. If the UK leaves the EU without being a part of the European research programmes, which would be the case if there was a no-deal Brexit then, going forward, it will not be an eligible partner. That poses two problems. The first is that Irish researchers need to find partners from other European countries, which is the nature of the Chair's second question, and we are stimulating that. For example, a couple of years ago, we opened the first Fraunhofer-SFI German research centre in Dublin. We are busy building relations with the researchers, with Germany, Lithuania and so on. It is essentially a substitution exercise for future European programmes.

It leaves the question of what will happen with bilateral collaboration between Ireland and the UK because the UK will no longer be part of those programmes. We have put in place all of the administrative arrangements bilaterally, but the funding will have to increase significantly. To give a ballpark number, 10% of collaborations are with the UK. Ireland's drawdown under Horizon 2020 will be €1.25 billion, 10% of which is €125 million. That is a rough number for the shortfall. That is what currently funds the Irish component of those collaborations with the UK through our EU subscription. It will no longer do that. We will have to find that money for the bilateral collaboration elsewhere. That is all in place, there is no further administration to do, and the programmes will survive a hard Brexit. The money to do that is required and that will be a challenge because Ireland will also have to contribute more to the European budget. The Minister for Finance will have challenges because he will want to contribute to the European budget to deal with Brexit, and there is this issue too.

I welcome our three guests. It is an extraordinarily important area of discussion. Being from near the Border myself and involved in friendship groups etc., I am a strong exponent of North-South co-operation and interactions at all levels as a basis ultimately to create a united people and good working relations in the meantime. It is disappointing to hear from Professor Ferguson that there are no North-South research collaboration projects in place at present because of the absence of an Administration in Northern Ireland. It once again underscores the importance of putting the Administration back in place. It is disturbing news. The only question I have arising from that is whether Professor Ferguson sees any potential to get around the absence of an Administration, although one would like to think that an Administration will be established soon.

If I understood correctly, though I may not have and it would be fine to have this clarified, I think Professor Ferguson expressed alarm that the contingency funds cited in the budget for research and development in the Border region in the event of a no-deal Brexit could negatively impact on the national funding. If I am wrong, please tell me. My humble opinion there is that the two are surely one in many regards and this should not be an issue. If there is a new discovery or breakthrough in Monaghan Mushrooms, Lakeland Dairies or Glanbia in Cavan, they are part of the national canvas. Will Professor Ferguson clarify that?

The question of cross-border student mobility is important and has been touched on by the Chair with regard to the practical areas of finance etc. It is my view that, as a committee, we should strongly support the signing of those memorandums of understanding in our report and talks with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to achieve seamless cross-border student mobility.

The witnesses stated that Brexit could lead to an increase in students and academic staff coming to study and work in Ireland from other EU countries. Does this raise capacity issues? Have Irish universities started to see an increase in the number of student and academic staff who might otherwise have gone to the UK? What needs to be done at Government or sectoral level to prepare for this? To what degree is this already becoming a reality? Can this be quantified? How will we deal with this in future?

It is wonderful to have the witnesses here. It is an exciting area and it must be the future. We have had so many examples of indigenous industries who have made great progress internationally through good research and development. There is huge potential in this regard and as the presentations note, this is critical to attracting inward investment. This has been one of our most important discussions in a long time.

Professor Mark Ferguson

On North-South collaboration, I share the Senator's concern at the lack of special schemes between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We have been busy trying to put those in place not only with the Northern Ireland Civil Service but also directly with Westminster. It is possible, through UK Research and Innovation or the programmes which the UK may initiate post Brexit, that the funding for a Northern Ireland piece, particularly through its cities or regional deals, could flow centrally from Westminster as well as, or instead of, flowing through a Stormont assembly. Those discussions are progressing. They are also progressing in Ireland. There is uniform agreement. Colleagues in the UK agree that it is a good thing to do. There was a meeting of the nine university presidents across Ireland, the two universities in the North and all the universities in Ireland, and everyone agreed that it just needs to happen. We are working on it. We are working on the assumption that it could be a restoration of the Executive, which would be excellent, but we also need a plan B. Those two also could be compatible.

I apologise that I may not have explained the contingency funds properly. In yesterday's budget, the contingency funds voted to deal with the emergency Brexit issues do not include research and innovation and they should. It is not about cannibalising any of the other issues; it is about just making sure that it is there. I do have a sense of perspective; I know that there are really urgent issues which must be dealt with-----

Is Professor Ferguson sure? In my recollection, I thought there was a specific reference in the Minister's script to research and innovation or development.

Professor Mark Ferguson

No, there is not.

I stand corrected.

Professor Mark Ferguson

That could be amended. I do not think it is particularly difficult. If it is an oversight, that is terrific because that is easy to fix. I understand that there are other more pressing issues and we have a sense of perspective in respect of small businesses and so on. I completely agree that innovation is important for small businesses. The Senator mentioned Monaghan Mushrooms which, through its innovation in respect of vitamin D-enhanced mushrooms - which incidentally was funded through Science Foundation Ireland, SFI - has captured and recaptured much of the UK market, whereas many of its competitors have gone out of business. That is a really important innovation.

My colleagues will speak on the student issue.

Dr. Lisa Keating

The Senator asked about the numbers of students moving, about which Mr. Purser will answer. On researchers, approximately 30% of researchers in Irish universities are non-Irish. We encourage that number to grow. As we said before, Brexit is an opportunity to attract in new talent, which is a positive thing. However, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, France and Spain are doing the same. They all also see this as an opportunity. SFI has various programmes to attract the top talent. In many cases, the initiative and mechanisms are there, as is the willingness of the universities and funders. Our difficulty is the funding is not there to make it happen. That is the challenge we face. Attracting top talent in academics and researchers is one of the very few opportunities we have from Brexit. That brings more in terms of European leveraged funding and then potential foreign direct investments, FDIs, are more interested in moving here and working here.

Mr. Lewis Purser

I thank the Senator for his question. We have already seen a significant increase in demand from students from other European countries outside Ireland and the UK. In 2017, the first real year after the UK's vote to leave the European Union, there was a 17% increase in applications from students from other European countries. In 2018 that increased by a further 5% and this year, there has been a further 9%. There has been a very significant increase in numbers. That is great for Ireland and our universities and young people, as it brings a huge additional diversity on campus and adds both to the life of the campus and to interaction in academic programmes. It increases the world view and the opportunities for Irish students in their future lives and careers. However, as is well documented elsewhere, this increased interest from European students is adding significantly to the domestic increases we already experience because of our very healthy demographic trends, coupled with the fact that year on year, our substantial numbers of students going to the UK are decreasing rapidly. That all means that more and more good students want to study in Irish higher education. We are now at a situation where the Government funding per student is just over 50% of what it was in 2008. The universities have made up that shortfall through other income and mechanisms and the students themselves are paying significantly more in student fees in 2019 than was being paid in 2009. That is where the additional money is coming from. The capacity issues are there in terms of capital spending for buildings, for laboratories, student supports and all the things that students need on the ground, such as residences and student accommodation. The list is long. If we are to successfully educate and train our own students and bring in a healthy mix of other European and international students, I am afraid that what we currently have is just not good enough.

As other witnesses are coming in at 3 p.m., is it agreed to group the questions? Agreed.

The witnesses have answered many of my questions. I will ask them to expand a little further. I thank them for their presentations. I have been listening to them and thinking what a disaster Brexit is. Senator Craughwell and I attended a briefing this morning by Border Communities Against Brexit. Their fears and anxieties are beyond the beyond.

Last week, my colleague Senator Higgins raised concerns about Brexit's possible impact on joint research projects carried out by Irish and UK universities. It is something about which she is very passionate. I am a little confused, as this is an area with which I am not familiar. Will the major research projects be cancelled if there is no deal? Am I correct that this is what the witnesses are saying?

Professor Mark Ferguson


No, they will not be cancelled. Vert well.

On the general data protection regulation, GDPR, if the UK becomes a third country after Brexit, how will that work in terms of transferring research data from UK universities to Irish universities? I am greatly concerned about the impact it will have on students. It is great that the memorandum of understanding agreed in May 2019 covers the right to attend university. However, I am worried about fees. How sure are we that people from Belfast will be able to attend university in Dublin, as they can now, and not be charged international fees after a no-deal Brexit? Similarly, the Erasmus programme was mentioned. How will that be affected?

The overarching issue here is the funding of higher education. The OECD chart with which we were provided speaks for itself.

It is shocking to see how little we invest in research compared to other countries. I would like to offer my support to the witnesses' call for a Cassells scorecard. It is very telling that in 2019, there is a €138 million gap between what is needed and what is being provided. The Government says that higher education is a priority. It needs to show that with resources.

I welcome our guests and thank them for their comprehensive presentations. The combination of the presentations and the previous questions covers a lot of what I intended to ask about. I would like to thank the witnesses for opening their statements by mentioning opportunities. On this committee and outside of it we have all become accustomed to pessimism and negativity when we discuss Brexit. It was refreshing that all the witnesses endeavoured to start out with opportunities, but unfortunately they concluded on negativity and problems. I would like them to elaborate on those problems and to describe the feedback they get from deliberations with their counterparts in the UK and Europe. The witnesses seem to have their homework done and all their ducks in a row where Irish issues are concerned. They have highlighted where there may be problems. What is the reaction on the British side of bilateral communications that are held in anticipation of potential problems? To get back to where I started my comments, do they see the same issues or are they stuck on the opportunities? Have the witnesses encountered any problems in these communications? Is the British side in denial, taking the opportunistic approach or thinking it will be all right on the night? How have those discussions gone?

I presume Science Foundation Ireland has multilateral projects in which Ireland, the UK and other members of the EU 27 are equally involved. If the UK leaves the EU in the morning, how will these projects be affected? Turning to attitudes away from this island, how are the other members of the EU 27 approaching this and preparing for it? Do they perceive it to be as big an issue as we do?

Have universities noticed any difficulties in recruiting industries to their research partnerships? Has there been any decline in the number of industries approaching universities because of the uncertainty we hear about in industry? We hear that money and talent are available and there are potential opportunities for expansion but the companies are sitting on their hands because of the uncertainty Brexit has created. Has that affected the universities' joint programmes with industry?

That is basically it. This is somewhat repetitive but I would like to hear about the UK. I know that to an extent what we read and see in the media is propaganda, but Ireland seems to be number one in the blame game in the UK. Are the witnesses finding that in a professional capacity, or is it just media propaganda?

The witnesses were asked several comprehensive questions. There is not much left for me. I would like to thank them for telling us that there are opportunities. This is the first group that has come before this committee and said that there are opportunities and we need to be looking for them. That is vitally important to the country.

I am a little bit concerned when we start talking about Ireland as the English-speaking member of the European community. Last summer I spent some time at a conference in Georgia, in the Caucasus. Everybody in the hotel I stayed in spoke perfect English. English is widely spoken in all of those countries, as well as in Germany. The only country that really hangs onto its language is France. Perhaps that is a cultural thing; I am not sure. On one hand I am a little concerned that we are using English as a marketing tool but on the other hand, it opens the door for people who are already fluent in the language to come here.

The Irish Universities Association referred to the accommodation problem and the growth in foreign demand for places in Irish universities. I would respectfully suggest that if some of those studying in university took up apprenticeships, which might be more suitable to their careers, we might have a few more places. If we ever achieve peer equivalence between university qualifications and apprenticeships, we might solve some of the accommodation problem.

In the last few days I listened to an interview about the investment in research in this country. It might have been with Professor Ferguson. This afternoon Professor Ferguson has frequently made the point that there are so many other calls on the public purse. The point made in that interview was that investment in research and development is an investment in the future. We seem to have failed to get that message across. I did not see any provision for research in the €190 million that was allocated to further and higher education yesterday. This budget was about marking time and trying to hold the horses at bay. I do not see anything in it.

Would North-South collaboration be taking place if there was an assembly in the morning? If the assembly fell apart in six months, would the collaboration collapse as well, or would continued collaboration on each project be guaranteed? Bilateral agreements were mentioned. People in this illustrious establishment tend to get very uptight and hung up about the word "bilateral" in relation to the UK and state that we do not do that sort of thing. Could we enter into bilateral agreements under the auspices of the Good Friday Agreement, rather than as a rogue country stepping outside the EU 27? I believe the Good Friday Agreement provides a vehicle by which we could have bilateral agreements. I would be interested in the witnesses' views on this.

I was delighted to hear somebody say for the first time ever in this room that the common travel area is not underpinned by law in either the UK or Ireland. Some of universities in Scotland offer free education. I have sent several students to Scotland over the years. Will they be treated as foreign nationals in a future arrangement? If so, what sort of funding will this country have to provide in order to continue to send students to the UK?

I will throw one or two other issues in. Professor Ferguson mentioned the recruitment opportunities, particularly the collaboration between the University of Oxford and University College Cork. That is fantastic. Will that type of collaboration between two different systems run into HR difficulties? Will there be problems with pensions, which will be a vital issue for everybody involved? How will we jointly fund the pensions for those who come across in those areas?

Finally, I was looking at the figures concerning research as a proportion of GDP. It is absolutely disgraceful that we are so far down the scale. It is very hard to justify spending on research. It is like advertising; 50% is vitally important for the future of the country. I note we are slipping down the international scale. That will impact the students coming to Ireland from foreign countries, including from other European countries. They want to be among the top ten institutions. They want to go to the best universities. We cannot be the best unless we attract what one of the witnesses referred to as "top talent". Unless we bring in the top talent, we will not bring in the understudies, that is, the PhD students who carry out this research.

Foreign direct investment is a big concern in Ireland. I sometimes wonder about it. The other day I read the curriculum vitae of a person involved in a multinational company. This person holds a masters degree and for all intents and purposes, her job is nothing more than customer service over the phone. Some of the IT companies are now saying they no longer want people with degrees as they can train their own people. I perceive the foreign firms that invest here as consumers of our human capital.

How much engagement has there been with them on research and development, specifically product development? Pharmaceutical companies here tend to be more focused on manufacturing than on research and development. IT companies tend to be more engaged in technical and customer support than research and development. Some of the IT companies in this country were writing software but I do not think they do so any longer. These are general questions. I am sorry if they fall slightly outside the topic of Brexit but I think they are all relevant.

Professor Mark Ferguson

I will respond first to Senator Black. In terms of the projects that are ongoing under Horizon 2020, if the UK Government makes good on what it has pledged, they will continue uninterrupted. What the UK Government has said is that anything that is currently ongoing that is funded by Europe, the UK Government will step in and take it over if the UK leaves Europe without a deal. One can read in the newspapers that many academics in the UK do not believe that. The UK Government has said it and we can only take it at its word. I understand where the confusion arises because many people in the UK say they do not believe their Government and that it does not have enough money to do that. If we take the UK Government at its word, the projects will continue, but, going forward, the UK will not be eligible for new projects and the Irish researchers will have to find other partners in Europe. That is doable. If they want to continue to collaborate with counterparts in the UK, this will have to be done on a bilateral basis. That means we need to find new money to fund those projects because they were previously funded by money from Europe.

The second question was about the GDPR. This is a very complicated area and I may get something wrong, but I can tell Senator Black that a lot of UK universities have registered offices in Ireland in order to specifically comply with European GDPR standards, particularly in the area of clinical trial data in circumstances where data are collected on patients. The GDPR aspect will be a UK problem. It is a brass-plate registration, but the universities are registering in order to comply.

In response to Senator Paul Daly, in terms of the opportunities and the UK attitudes, we have encountered nothing but extreme enthusiasm and very professional engagement from our colleagues in the UK. That is within the research agencies and the universities. In fact, I would say they are much more engaged than they have been in the past. The reason is that they see a threat. I will give a concrete example. In July, I spent a full day at the University of Cambridge, which is one of the top UK universities, with all of the top management. At the top of their to-do list is increased collaboration with Ireland. Before Brexit, I would have to say I would have got a soft-pillow effect, in other words, I would have had a nice meeting. It would have been fantastic but nothing would have happened. What we get now is real engagement because they see opportunities. We are talking about joint appointments between Oxford and Cambridge and many of the leading universities. They see an opportunity there. They are going to lose staff. Our Brexit strategy is very simple. If people are thinking of leaving the UK, I want them to think of Ireland, but we want to collaborate with the UK in order that it is not parasitic. I am not going over asking people to leave; I am saying if they are thinking of leaving, they should please think of us as well as America, Australia, Germany and wherever else they might be thinking about, but more importantly, they should think about a joint appointment between a UK university and an Irish university, which might give the UK university the best of both worlds. I see huge engagement and major opportunities.

We have encountered nothing akin to what members might see in the press in terms of blaming Irish people. In fact, quite the opposite; they think we are a bastion of common sense and good governance. They think Ireland looks sane among the English-speaking world. There are significant opportunities. We will shortly announce the relocation of full professors currently at Oxford and Cambridge who are going to be relocating to Ireland. That would not have happened prior to Brexit. We will see the joint appointment to which I referred with Professor Séamus Davis. I hope there are more of those. I see big opportunities. It is not big numbers but one does not need a very large number of really talented people. Twenty top people will make a big difference. One does not need to have 2,000.

In terms of the multilateral projects and the attitudes of other people in Europe, that is quite different. I will generalise. Many of our European colleagues do not need the UK as much as we do, because they are not its closest neighbour and they are probably a bit fed up with all this Brexit nonsense. They probably think it is much easier to collaborate with people in Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and so on, and they will put the uncertainty to one side. I do not think that is an Irish problem; it is a UK problem.

In terms of industry collaborations, to generalise, small and medium enterprises are probably being quite cautious because they are going to face into the Brexit storm. There is probably no difference or perhaps even increased enthusiasm among multinational companies for engaging in research and development investment. Things that might have been done in the UK in the past may be done in Ireland. That is another opportunity. Those people will not invest unless the research is world class. They will not invest unless the people are user-friendly, but if there is a minor difference between an Irish group and a UK group, we may be able to get the investment and that is what we need to focus on. The SME community is very engaged, but it is being cautious because it does not know what is happening, given the uncertainty. It is important that we invest in the future.

I will address the North-South aspect because I understand how that could be confusing. The way that our collaborations work is the bit done in the North of Ireland or in the UK is funded there and we fund the bit done in Ireland. We do not do charity. We do not fund the bit in the UK and they do not fund the bit in Ireland. When we established the collaborations in Northern Ireland it was a decision by the Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is not a line item in the Northern Ireland budget. Due to the fact that there is no functioning Assembly, the civil servants cannot allocate money unless it is specified as a line item, so they do not have a discretionary spend. That is why it fell apart. If we were to reinstate it and it were to become a line item, then it would persist. If it were to be where it was historically, just at the discretion of the Minister of the assembly, it would fall apart if the assembly fell apart. That is one of the reasons we are trying to do it through Westminster. If it were done through London - and London does have a devolved regional section in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform - then it would be more enduring in nature. We are trying to do both of those. It is awfully important.

There is no problem about bilateral arrangements in science. We have signed a whole pile of those with our UK colleagues. We do not have to do it under the Good Friday Agreement. We could, as there is provision there, but it has not been necessary. It is a function of the enormous enthusiasm and goodwill. Both Senators Craughwell and Paul Daly asked me about the UK focus on research and innovation. It is very simple; it is away from Europe. The UK is focusing major efforts on collaboration with the Americas, that is, the United States and Canada, and very major focus on the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has been resurrected, so to speak. It was never a part of the science system when I was in the UK and there is now a Commonwealth science approach with, among others, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The focus of a government that is not particularly pro-Europe is to focus on America and to focus on the Commonwealth countries.

I was asked to explain about the arrangement between UCC and the University of Oxford. It is dead simple. It is a joint appointment, but in practice it is 50% at UCC and 50% at the University of Oxford and none of those issues arise because it is very clear. One just needs to be very precise about where the person is going to be at a particular time. It is not an issue in terms of doing it.

If we look at FDI with respect to development, there is a major opportunity for Ireland. We are seeing more companies invest in public research in Ireland than ever before. It is a question of taking those companies on a journey, both large and small companies. There are significant investments in research and development by large companies in Ireland. To give an idea of the figures, in 2012, companies in Ireland collectively invested approximately €8 million in public research in universities. They now put in close to €200 million.

This is capable of being expanded.

That is the good news story. The bad news story is that 50% of the multinational companies engage and 50% do not, so we still have a big job to do. It is not done. The figure relating to SMEs is about the same. It is very patchy. There is a lot to do and there is a significant opportunity. It is very important for the future that we increase our investment in research and development and that this is done while maintaining the model of two thirds from the private sector and one third from the public sector. This is what we are doing through programmes like the industry partnerships we run with our colleagues in the universities, the SFI research centres, the partnerships and so on. We are getting the companies and the public sector to invest. We need to do more of it. The programmes, people and talent are there; we just need to put more fuel in the tank. It is as simple as that.

Is that done on a project-by-project basis where one third comes from Government and two thirds from a company? In other words, a company with a specific problem is prepared to put in €400,000 and Government is then asked to put in another €200,000 to fund the project.

Professor Mark Ferguson

Exactly. There are many projects that are co-funded and in aggregate, when one puts them all together, it runs to two thirds to one third, although it may vary. In some instances, the company may only have to put in one third while in others, it needs to put in two thirds but in aggregate, it is what I have referred to. We need that flexibility. It depends on whether the company is small or where it is in the research and development game. I will hand over to my colleagues to address some of the other questions.

Dr. Lisa Keating

Professor Ferguson has covered a lot of ground. I will add a few points for clarity. He mentioned that 10% of the partnerships we have under Horizon 2020 are with the UK. This is really important in terms of making up the shortfall of the €125 million to fund those. However, it is not just about finding an alternative partner. I emphasise that these are long-term relationships with stellar universities and top academics who are recognised around the world and who are based in UK universities. It is really important for us to maintain those links. It is not a monetary type of partnership or interaction one can find it in another country. While, like business, it is really important to diversify and look to Europe for new partners and collaborations, the links we have with UK academics and researchers are key because these people are recognised as some of the best in the world and Ireland's reputation is enhanced by our interaction with them. The money is not just to fill a budget pot. Maintaining those links is of strategic importance to Ireland.

A question was asked about collaborations between industry and universities and higher education institutions. As Professor Ferguson stated, we are not necessarily finding that there has been a drop-off in those interactions. The trend over time has been to increase greatly. Irish companies now invest more in research and development than they did in the past and there is much stronger collaboration with universities and higher education institutions. What defines that is the quality of the research and the talent, which is probably why Brexit is probably not impacting on those. This is what we have in Irish universities and the Irish higher education system. We worry that if we continue to erode the funding, we will not have that excellence in science and research and that excellence in our talent. That is what will stop industry collaborating with our members. It is not the uncertainty of Brexit; it is the lack of quality and talent that would result from a further erosion of funding. I wanted to reiterate that point.

The English-speaking aspect comes into it a great deal. I worked as a researcher in Germany. I am not proud to say that I cannot speak German but it did not impact on me. English is obviously important in research and academia and is spoken by many. While that is the icing on the cake, our problem is that we do not have the rest of the cake. We have been nibbling away at it for years. We put an awful lot of money in through SFI by means of PRTLI. We put in a great deal of funding and when the downturn happened, we were able to turn to that investment, reap rewards and use it to bring us through the economic recession we faced. Going back to the cake analogy, the problem we now face is that we have not been buying the flour and sugar and putting everything back in. We have the icing on the cake. We have the mechanisms that SFI has and the English-speaking element. We have lots of things going for us but we must focus on funding core research if we are to make a difference. As the Senator noted, this is one of the few opportunities presented by Brexit and we need to capitalise on it.

Mr. Lewis Purser

I will deal with a few of the other questions, particularly the ones concerning students. Senator Black asked how a student from Belfast would be treated in a year's time, which is a very serious issue. Theoretically, that student could pull out an Irish passport and demand to be treated as a domestic student and we would agree entirely with that. Our preference is to continue to treat students from any part of the UK as domestic Irish students irrespective of what happens with Brexit. Maintaining good neighbourly relations, cultural contact and economic links will only continue if our young people continue to cross borders, work and study with each other and get to know each other. That is how we build up that sustainable future together so we have a very strong preference for maintaining the current terms and conditions for UK students in Irish higher education. What needs to happen is quite urgent because students and their families make decisions about where they will apply before Christmas. The CAO system for 2020 will open in early November but the UK system opens earlier. In the context of high-achieving UK students, the closing date for universities in the Russell Group, which is the group of 24 to 30 top universities in the UK of which Queen's University Belfast is a member, is before Christmas so we need to send out a very loud and clear message to UK students who would be interested in studying in Ireland and their families that we will offer them the same terms and conditions we used to regardless of what happens with Brexit. Otherwise, they will not know and the uncertainty is what drives people to make decisions. Unfortunately, we have seen those numbers drop off substantially in the past few years.

Senator Craughwell asked whether the Good Friday Agreement would allow us to establish some sort of bilateral agreement with the UK. I do not think we need the protection of the Good Friday Agreement to do that. I am very aware that a number of other European countries already have bilateral arrangements and memorandums of understanding with the UK to continue the sort of bilateral research arrangements Professor Ferguson said we need to put in place. We need funding for that. They would kick in automatically on the day on which Brexit really goes pear shaped. Schemes to ensure bilateral mobility are already in place, as well as European funding for young researchers and promising students. We need those as well. There is nothing stopping us having good bilateral relations with the UK or constituent regions and devolved provinces in the UK. That will become more important as we move forward so I would encourage this committee to put pressure where possible on the Government to begin to make those preparations where they have not already been made.

Dr. Keating mentioned advantages relating to the English language. On the surface, this is the case but in the higher education and research game, everybody speaks English and everybody has those advantages. We are and will remain small. We are marginal and on the edge of Europe and have an underfunded system despite the best efforts of SFI and other research funders. In the latest round of the very high-profile European Research Council grants, we got one out of over 400 grants. We are not at the races. The former president of UCD, Hugh Brady, was in Dublin last week. He said that his university, which is smaller than UCD, got more of those grants than the entire Irish system. That is what we are up against and that is why we need the investment. Then we will continue to be attractive and to be a magnet for top talent. This, in turn, will continue to draw foreign direct investment, boost SMEs and indigenous industry and continue to drive our economic development but that is the risk at the moment.

On the issue of passports, it is really important-----

Senator Paul Daly indicated that he wishes to ask a supplementary question.

I need to get in this question about passports.

Could the Senator keep it brief? The clock is against us.

I am conscious of the clock. While I do not have any further questions for the witnesses, it is important that I record my disbelief and frustration at the lack of North-South collaboration caused by the suspension of the Assembly. I will not get party political about this by asking who is responsible or why it has happened but, based on the explanation given by Mr. Ferguson, it is important members of the committee, both individually and collectively, contact the relevant Ministers and urge them to make contact, at their earliest convenience, with the relevant Ministers in Westminster and officials in Whitehall. We need to sidestep, as Mr. Ferguson explained, the reason for the problem preventing collaboration. He cited the need for the British Government, through collaboration with the Government here, to provide this funding as a line item in the Northern Ireland budget, which would then be decided on by civil servants as opposed to requiring a decision of a sitting Assembly. We are not going down the road of asking why or being party political.

The Senator has made the point.

I support that suggestion.

I believe the committee will agree with the proposal.

Reference was made to passports and when a student produces an Irish passport. We had a delegation over from the United States, all of whom were emigrants working in the medical devices and pharmaceutical area. They are Irish citizens who brought their children to the US where they have been promoted into senior positions. Their children, who hold Irish passports, have to pay full non-EU fees if they wish to attend an Irish university. It strikes me that if the UK becomes a third country and a child from the UK who holds an Irish passport comes here to study, he or she will be treated the same as an Irish child living here. I am not sure how the witnesses feel about that.

Mr. Lewis Purser

There is a slight difference between someone who has grown up in Belfast and lived his or her entire life there and someone who has grown up in Chicago, even if both of them hold the same passport. It is up to the Government to decide who is eligible for EU fees and who is eligible for Irish Government support. We would be thrilled to have more students with Irish heritage coming from the United States. The reality, however, is that our current students are already underfunded. If we opened the gates to all Irish passport holders, what would be the cumulative effects on the system? The position with regard to giving people the right to vote domestically is similar. It would be wonderful to have a system that was so generous that we could offer heavily subsidised education to everybody but we are having difficulty meeting the demands and needs of the domestic population. Currently, we cannot legally distinguish between an Irish citizen and, for example, a Swedish citizen who wishes to study in Ireland. That is normal. We are considering theoretically how we would treat a citizen who has lived all his or her life in the North or in Scotland and comes here as a student. De facto, post Brexit such students will be from a non-EU jurisdiction but will have lived in part of the EU for most of their lives. I do not know whether we can differentiate on that basis.

I thank Mr. Purser and the other witnesses for taking time to engage with the committee today. We very much appreciate them sharing their thoughts on this evolving situation and flagging the issues that need to be addressed.

Sitting suspended at 3.25 p.m. and resumed at 3.27 p.m.