Academics say increased cross-border cooperation in higher education will be key to achieving “peace and prosperity” in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The task force, set up by the Pan Irish Learned Society, the Royal Irish Academy, the Irish government and the Northern Ireland Executive, calls for the use of closer links in research and education as a way to overcome historical political and regional challenges, as well as problems arising from Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.
A series of reports proposes the creation of an All-Islands Charter on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion that would bring together existing goals and initiatives such as the Republic’s Framework for Consent, which addresses sexual harassment and misconduct, with an advisory board that would set goals, make recommendations and monitor progress.
The Academy argues that such a coordinated strategy would eliminate contradictions in the relative focus on gender, religion, ethnicity, language, ethnicity, disability, and LGBT issues.
They also call for the creation of an advisory board for research and innovation on all islands, which would provide independent policy advice and assessment across both jurisdictions. This can help avoid duplication of “expensive resources and capital infrastructure”, allowing universities to draw on their strengths instead. Under this system, institutions are expected to declare their research priorities and centers of expertise ‘for clarity’.
The advisory board could also consider creating a higher education and research district across Ireland, which would facilitate greater student mobility, reports say, suggesting this could build on the experience of the Nordic countries that have made similar arrangements between the EU and non-EU countries. members of the European Union.
Another recommendation is a planning authority for the northwest of the island, an area that has historically been underfunded. This will likely include the creation of a cross-border university, which was initially proposed in 2020.
Besides these cross-border initiatives, the papers also call for more investment in research from both governments and the creation of a body to oversee post-secondary education in Northern Ireland, as it is the only British region without one.
Both parts of Ireland have faced funding pressures over the past decade. In Northern Ireland, the fee was set at £4,275 ($5707), compared to £9,250 ($12,349) in England.
Universities in the republic, where tuition is free, faced decades of budget constraints even before COIVID-19 hit vital income from international students and business revenue.
Cross-border initiatives have sparked very strong support via requests to consult the academy, according to Jerry McKenna, the Royal Irish Academy’s vice-chancellor and former vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster. He said that while some cross-border initiatives already exist, stronger commitment is needed.
“By its nature, higher education and research do not really respect borders. It is an international activity,” McKenna said. “Within a relatively small island, such as Ireland, any faulty division that prevents cooperation and synergy harms both parts of the island, regardless of political views. Universities play an important role in promoting social cohesion, promoting political tolerance, and supporting democratic institutions themselves. This is not something we should take for granted. A system of higher education that includes the entire island and all its regions is an important factor in promoting not only prosperity, but also peace and stability.”