Brexit may hit college funding

Brexit could make life tougher for Irish colleges instead of bringing in more research funding, the chair of University College Cork’s governing body has warned.

Catherine Day, former EU Commission secretary general, was addressing TDs and senators about the difficulties facing Irish universities.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne had said at the Oireachtas education committee meeting that some academics believe “a land of milk and honey” awaits when the UK leaves the EU.

There have been suggestions of less competition from our nearest neighbours for European research funding, but Ms Day said the competitive environment for Ireland is going to get more challenging once Brexit is completed.

“The pressure on the UK to be competitive is going to be much more once they are outside the EU. That will make them more aggressive, and our capacity to build and maintain the kind of service economy we have is going to be very important,” she said.

There will also be a smaller pool of funding if British contributions are removed, but it was also pointed out that the UK may be able to compete for a share of the EU’s major Horizon 2020 research fund if it continues paying into it.

While Brexit presents a major opportunity to market Ireland as the only English-speaking destination for non-EU students, Ms Day said we need to be able to assure investors of the quality of our graduates.

The funding options being considered by the Oireachtas committee aim to reverse falling quality of third-level education caused by falling budgets to cater for growing student numbers. The UCC governing body chair said it is hard to see how a higher education system fully funded by taxpayers would materialise because of all the calls on public funding.

“We do think a well-designed loan system has its place. Some of the concerns, such as emigration [of graduates], can be taken into account in the design of the system,” she said.

In response to Green Party TD Catherine Martin’s question about prospect of non-payment by graduates who leave the country, Ms Day said people are pursued across international borders for things as small as unpaid speeding tickets.

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