New UCC president Patrick O’Shea sees Brexit dividend

The chance to attract more research funding and international investment because of the fallout from Brexit are to be a key focus of University College Cork’s new president.

However, Patrick O’Shea also wants to widen the scope of an existing Brexit committee at the university to take advantage of growing numbers of researchers seeking to move away from the US.

He begins his 10-year term this morning after a career as a physicist, professor and research director for more than 30 years in the US. While UCC’s governing body chairwoman, Catherine Day, warned that the opportunities from Brexit might not be as great as some Irish research leaders predict, Prof O’Shea thinks differently.

“So if you have a hard Brexit, you can be sure that those who have strong EU funding will want to continue it. That’s why Ireland has an advantage,” he said.

“We actually have a Brexit committee here on campus and I’m going to broaden it now to the US, to look at how we can take advantage of these crises.”

Although his comments were made in an interview before last weekend’s order by US president Donald Trump, which prompted concerns internationally about the ability of researchers and academics to work in and visit the US, he referred to approaches already being received.

“What we’re seeing, and the same applies to the US more recently, is that we’re getting a lot of contacts from people who are exploring the opportunities in Ireland, from the US and from Britain,” Prof O’Shea said.

He is well aware of the danger of US or other foreign direct investment being withdrawn, but the UCC graduate also sees Ireland’s continuing advantages over other countries with its high-quality workforce, and what he says are low transactional costs.

“Part of that is the tax structure, but it’s also the legal structure,” said Prof O’Shea. “We have reliable regulations, honest government and honest people — that’s something we do not want to lose.

“We’re an English-speaking country; we’re in the EU; we have close ties to Britain and to the Americas, and that puts us in a stronger position than you might think.”

He believes there is an untapped ability of UCC and other universities to attract much more private and corporate philanthropy.

Prof O’Shea also said the funding options currently being considered at political level need to be widened.

As an alternative to the focus on a ‘study now, pay later’ system which is being considered despite opposition from student and trade unions, disadvantaged students should be able to begin and finish college debt-free, said Prof O’Shea.

With the support of scholarships funded by philanthropy, Prof O’Shea said, Irish universities should be able to follow a ‘need-blind’ admission system used by many colleges in the US.

“I’m highly opposed to student debt. You do not want young people from disadvantaged communities starting off and being in debt, that’s the worst possible situation,” he said.

Prof O’Shea replaces Michael Murphy as UCC president, and is the first since Bertram Windle in 1904 to assume the post without having held a professorship at the university.

Take the scenic route through Cork with new UCC president, Patrick O'Shea

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