Irish higher education, post Brexit

Two interesting think pieces in the Irish Times today. One by TCD’s Brian Lucey on the challenges and opportunities facing Ireland’s Higher Education sector after Brexit, and another by UCC’s Phillip O’Kane on creating a single International University of Ireland made of the best bits of the higher education landscape. 

The Deparment of Finance and the ESRI have a briefing paper modeling the impact of Brexit on the Irish economy. Their takeaway:

the level of Irish output is permanently below what it otherwise would have been in the absence of BREXIT.

‘Nuff said.

By Stephen Kinsella

Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Limerick.

26 replies on “Irish higher education, post Brexit”

Actually I thought the ESRI study showed a surprisingly limited impact from Brexit. The paper is based on a new model, not yet published, called COSMO, and compares a base scenario over 10 years with a Brexit case, the latter incorporating three possible trading relationships established by the UK on leaving the EU. The base case is not published but lets assume a 3% average real growth rate, so Irish real GDP would be 34% higher in a decade. Lower UK growth post Brexit hits Irish exports, so reducing activity here and in the worst case real GDP is 3.7% lower than in the base case i.e. real GDP would rise by around 30% over the 10 year period.
Its not clear from the supply side why Ireland’s potential growth rate would fall (lower labour supply growth , lower productivity growth or both ?) as the explanation in the paper is solely from the demand side.

The adverse impact of Brexit in the ESRI study, both short-term and long term seems rather small; so much so that one would wonder what all the fuss is about.

But if one looks at the WTO tariff rates in the linked McCann Fitzgerald paper, it is difficult to believe that the negative impact on the Irish economy of the imposition of such rates, would not have a greater impact than is foreseen in the report.

For consumer purchases post-Brexit, the administrative hassle and delay alone, of getting goods through customs, will surely lead to a fall or displacement of demand for some products.
But who knows, and I still think Brexit will not happen!

I’m planning to travel to Beijing on Thursday where both there and in Dublin policy makers will see the election of Trump as a potent threat to globalisation that has been a big benefit to both countries.

Brain Lucey says “Ireland is amazingly well positioned” in relation to attracting foreign students. What apparently the UK plans is to target the rackets where typically fake language schools are used to get visas for people who are seeking work. Ruairí Quinn, education minister in 2014 announced a tightening of Irish rules.

The British government is unlikely to prevent universities from hosting foreign students and US, Australia and the UK are likely to remain the main destinations for e.g. Asia students.

As for Philip O’Kane’s piece, he refers to the aborted TCD-UCD merger and the same vested interests remain.

The Government in 2009 forced the TCD and UCD to agree an Innovation Alliance to jointly work on science research projects. It had a quiet death after the initial PR, even though it retains a virtual existence.

As for establishing a world-class university, maybe Austria with a sustained record of economic achievement and no world-class university is a better example than the cited Swiss and Swedish institutions long involved in research in countries with their own world-class companies.

Irish business (foreign + domestic) has one of the worst records for support of public research. This is what the European Commission said this year:

the level of (Irish) business enterprise funding of public R&D as a percentage of GDP was 0.007% in 2013 (Eurostat data), one of the lowest in the EU-28 and much lower than the EU average of 0.05% (2012). This value is even more striking if compared with innovation leaders like Germany (0.114%) or Finland (0.065%) or other strong innovators like the Netherlands (0.088%) or Belgium (0.072%).

If Ireland did not have a problem with poor adult and youth skills according to the OECD, we should still wonder about the cost of a prestige third level project?

Phil Baty of Times Higher Education has commented on what a world-class university would involve:

First, you need serious money. Significant financial resources are essential to pay the salaries required to attract and retain the leading scholars and to build the facilities needed. Second, providing an intimate and intensive teaching environment for students, where they can expect to truly engage with leading academic staff, can really help. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a world-class university must be genuinely international. It must be a magnet for the planet’s most talented staff and students, wherever they happen to come from; it must bring people together from a range of different cultures and backgrounds to tackle shared global challenges; and it must work and think across national borders.

@ brianlucey

OK – give us some facts on the target of 40,000 jobs as we are now at almost 7 years through a 10-year plan. How many high-value spinouts have materialised, survived and and how many scaled up?

ICT employment in the economy comprising about 50% of admin staff, has grown only marginally in recent years.


Between 30,000 and 40,000 high-quality jobs were promised yesterday by Trinity College and UCD when they launched their joint Innovation Alliance.

The universities plan to double the number of PhD students and hope that their new Innovation Academy will lead to the creation of 300 high-value companies over the next decade.

How credible can a model based on distorted data be?

By 2021 the Double Irish will end — with a likely loss of €60 billion in services output and that is just one example.

Models are produced now but for long the underperformance of the indigenous exporting sector was ignored. With food & drinks trade with the UK almost in balance, the domestic sales of exporters are also under threat.

The ratio of export firms is very low as is the trend rate in startups. Even in 2007 according to the CSO there were more enterprise deaths than births.

Brian Lucey writes: “This constellation of events suggests to me an integrated solution. We should offer to the best EU staff in the UK an opportunity to transfer to the Irish sector. We should focus in the first instance on the arts, humanities and social sciences sphere, with the provision that these initial transfers move to the new universities.

They would set up faculties in the institutes of technology to complement existing science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) faculties and allow them to transfer to university status when and if they have a solid faculty in place.”

This is fanciful thinking.

Institutes of technology are generally found in middle-sized Irish towns. Their student base is drawn from the middle of the ability distribution and comes from the local area.

For academic staff you will probably have a low research budget, low probability of collaborators in your field and you’ll probably be teaching very general undergraduate course all of the time.

It is absurd to suppose that non-British, EU faculty with a phd, post-doc and solid research record would come in any numbers to Irish ITs. Sheffield or Durham have their cultural limits but there is a lot more to do than in Tralee any day.

@Brian, I think the intention of the UK government is to put a ‘quality’ requirement on overseas students. Those going to proper Universities on proper courses are regarded as different (in the Conservative Party) to those who arrive with the right papers for some place nobody has ever heard of, don’t know anything about the course they are supposed to be doing, but have been ushered in anyway.

The PR doesn’t look great currently among potential o/s punters, but when the dust has settled I doubt there will be as much impact on o/s student numbers at the ‘elite’ (yuk) UK universities as is being suggested.

Imho league tables are slightly silly generally, but they are almost the only tool most prospective o/s seem to customers use widely.

It’d be nice to see some clarity on the role of a university and on what’s required to be an “elite” university.

For an “elite” university, I believe Philip Lane is right. Ireland is dreaming if it thinks it can support several. Sorry Cork and Galway etc., but without huge and unnecessary dislocation it means that Ireland is hopefully looking at one in Dublin. That could have multiple campuses, but spending should be on academic staff and not on overhead.

And for an “elite” university I mean – essentially – a research University that also does great teaching.

For the rest I confess that the idea of a “university” in every mid-sized Irish town seems daft, so much of Brian Lucey’s vision leaves me cold. Even to have excellent teaching universities there’ll need to be concentration and at least a moderate amount of (lower level) research.

But – there is a huge international opportunity for english-language university business to thrive, particularly after Brexit and now Trump. And another “but”. The threat of online or the opportunity of online still seems to be neglected by the Irish university sector.

Both undergrad and postgrad courses in subjects where people actually know what they’re talking about can be well taught online.

Elite thinking is FUBR
We are not operating in BAU .

What is required is less RTE, more TG4
Joining dots, not ticking boxes

Trump is a suicide bomber in DC.
You’re up to date on 98n FM.

This is from the UCC Winter conferrings 2011, picked rather at random via Google. but which makes the point.

“Dr Tom Cavanagh, a member of UCC’s Governing Body was the guest-speaker at today’s ceremony. In his “We Can Shape our Future” address he spoke about the need for the modern university to respond strategically to changing circumstances.

Speaking of his last 14 years on UCC’s Governing Body Dr Cavanagh said:

“During that time UCC has doubled in size; its course offerings have responded to the changing needs; the research income has regularly been at the top among Irish universities; it has expanded its courses into several towns. Significantly, UCC now plays a very important role in the economic welfare of the region.

So from this basis of success, from my background in business, let’s look at the future for UCC. I tend to think of third level institutions as semi-states (legally not so). In UCC 75% of the income comes from the State. This leads to a mind-set that the institution is financially underwritten permanently; that the jobs are for life; that nothing is ever life- threatening. A business that cannot respond quickly to challenges in a competitive economy disappears. In recent times semi-states coming out from the shelter of monopoly have fared badly in the competitive arena. Think of the diverse futures of Aer Lingus and Ryanair.”

As long as Irish universities are in this situation, especially with regard to the method of settling salaries unrelated to individual performance, and based on “relativities”, it is hard to see how any Brexit opportunities, assuming that they exist, could ever be availed of.

UCC’s 2013 accounts suggest that about 45% of its income comes from the state, directly or indirectly ;

total income 341023
state grant 53633 (this is the block grant , the state money for the public good of higher education)
hea fees 45674 (the under and postgrad fees waived by the state, paid by the HEA)
State research 55071 (competitive grants)

Thats a lot different to 75%. But, debates on irish higher education tend to be fact free zones.

This development is, of course, welcome. But the point being made relates not so much to percentages of funding – where Cork scores very well – but to the management structure of the Irish universities and institutes of higher education. It is rigid and without the freedom to manage, the phenomenon that has blighted the rest of the public sector. The ability to adapt and to scale up activity is, as a result, very limited. The likelihood of Brexit making any difference is, therefore, near zero.

Somebody needs to write an op ed for the Irish Times education supplement and tell the guidance counsellors that we won’t need so many accountants going forward. As Ed Luce tweeted the other night the data people are only good when things are normal. And we are not operating in normal.

There is a unique moment with the UK and the US tearing themselves apart. It might be time to start some alternative iterations. Senior hurling Colmcille style. Bobbio was still working away one thousand years later. Neoliberalism is nonsense.

I haven’t read the IT articles as I would never give any money to the IT. However, the ideas expressed in summary in the opening post seem good. But, I’d add two things: (a) Any elite International University of Ireland should be operated on a 32-county basis – over the past couple of hundred years QUB has had a better record than other universities on the island in producing world-renowned experts in science, maths, engineering, although it has sadly declined in recent decades (b) Ireland is a small country and needs to be selective in what it specialise in – that should be in ‘wealth-creation’-related subjects (computing, science, engineering, maths etc) – there is no need to expend scarce resources on ‘political-correctness’-related subjects (gender studies, sociology etc) – that was true before Tuesday, but is all the more true now that the social liberal bandwagon has been brought to a shuddering halt.

Just an idle question which I hope is not too personal. Are you covered by the NHS? The “social, liberal bandwagon”, that seems about to come to a shuddering halt in the US, includes Obamacare.


Yes, I am covered.

As far as I know, everyone in the UK (including for now N. Ireland) is covered by the NHS. I don’t think they have a choice. Although I haven’t been to the doctor since March 1988 (touch wood). so not my area of expertise. I only ever required medical treatment once in R, Ireland. That was in Feb 1971. I remember being quite horrified when told I had to pay £5 or so for the medication that was free in Tyrone.

However, I judge systems by their results and these don’t lead me to the conclusion that socialised healthcare having a monopoly of healthcare provision is a good thing. The reality is that the NHS isn’t what its cracked up to be by those south of the border who worship it without ever experiencing it. N. Ireland and Scotland have the highest mortality rates and lowest life expectancy in western Europe, both much worse than R. Ireland. Just flew back today from New York. What strikes me every time I go to USA is how good everyone’s teeth are (and true long before Obamacare) – vastly superior to UK teeth (and R. Ireland teeth for that matter). How ever have they managed it without a socialised health service?

Going back to the subject in hand, I’d apply the same principle. There is no reason to rely on or wait for the dead hand of the state to expand higher education in Ireland. Bring in the private sector. Ask some reputable American university with links to Ireland (like Notre Dame) to set up here. If Brian Lucey is correct about there now being post-Brexit opportunities for the higher education sector in Ireland (and he probably is), there could be any number of universities in America eager to take advantage of it.

Thanks for that! It is not the nature of the health scheme, or its quality, that I find pertinent but the universality of access to it on the basis of need. It is what separates the US from the developed economies of Europe, with the exception, of course, of the Irish Republic, which has in its founding proclamation the commitment to cherishing all the children [i.e. people] of the nation equally.

The point is an important one because it is what divides Europe from the US in terms of making a prognosis of what is likely to happen electorally, especially in France and Germany. Many RTE radio listeners will, for example, have heard today the comments of a French couple returning to France because of specialist health care needs of their young child not available to them in Ireland. Ireland is, indeed, much closer to Boston than Berlin. The balancing act, however, risks becoming seriously unstuck.

On the topic under discussion, I agree with you. Our universities are, in reality, not even semi-states but a branch of the much too extensive public sector. With this structure, they can never hope to progress much beyond their present status.

@ Brian Lucey

On the TCD-UCD Innovation Alliance, there were 10 year targets announced in 2009 for the project to create up to 40,000 jobs and 300 high-value companies. After almost 7 years, what are the facts?

How many spin outs have survived and scaled-up?

The rise in total ICT employment which comprises about 50% of admin jobs, has been subdued in recent years.

Hasn’t there been huge job growth here since 2009 in tech jobs requiring postgraduate degrees? Just walk around the Dublin docklands to see it. Perhaps those jobs haven’t directly come out of that particular TCD-UCD initiative, but certainly indirectly graduates from those universities have taken up many of the new highly paid tech jobs created in Dublin in recent years.

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