September 24, 2022

Finance & Economy

Let's Talk About Investment

Cross-Border collaboration critical to future all-island economy

It is essential that we continue to foster cross-Border collaboration between higher education institutions and that research and innovation occupy a keystone position in underpinning the all-island economy.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) across the island of Ireland drive economic growth by enhancing skills, developing and attracting talent, advancing research and innovation, creating new start-ups, supporting SMEs and attracting global investment. At the same time, HEIs are globalised institutions with far-reaching international partnerships and increasing international student and staff populations. They play a critical role in advancing our society across the shared island, economically, socially and culturally.

There is a rich history of cross-Border collaboration in education, research and innovation among HEIs on the island of Ireland. These collaborations have been supported by successive EU research and innovation framework programmes, erasmus and structural funds, as well as national funding.

Tripartite US-Ireland partnerships allow us to work jointly with US partners such as the US National Institutes of Health and the US National Science Foundation. Mechanisms such as these have strengthened our cross-Border research partnerships and enabled us to grow international collaborations of scale, producing significant societal and economic impacts.

Areas such as agri-food, biodiversity, climate change, energy and health are the focus of enormous research and innovation activity globally. They are also areas in which it clearly makes sense to advance research on an all-island basis. Joint examination of our shared heritage and cultures represents another clear opportunity for all-island research collaboration. In these and other areas, by working together across the island of Ireland we can deliver research and innovation that is globally relevant and impactful.

Memorandum of understanding

Following many decades of close collaboration, Queen’s University Belfast and University College Dublin (UCD) are announcing the signing of an historic memorandum of understanding to strengthen their partnership in research, innovation and training. The universities will enhance co-operation in areas of mutual strength where collaborations are already being progressed, including: arts and humanities; climate, biodiversity and energy; food and agriculture; healthcare and cancer; and manufacturing and digital technologies.

By working together, along with our industry and civic partners, we will blend our joint expertise through a range of important and ground breaking projects, to co-develop solutions to shared global challenges, benefiting society across the island.

In both regions, successive governments have understood the importance of education and research in enriching and supporting our economic future. The research and innovation ecosystem on the island of Ireland has been transformed through public investments in programmes supporting our transformation to a knowledge economy.

The recent announcement of new all-island research funding under the Irish Government’s “Shared Island” initiative has been very welcome, with UCD and Queen’s being successful in 10 jointly-led proposals including the All-Island Vaccine Research and Training Alliance and the All-Island Cancer Research Institute, along with other projects in social justice, creative arts, healthcare, and the bioeconomy.

There was an overwhelming response from across the island to this funding call, reflecting the excitement in our HEIs about North-South collaboration and the desire across all research disciplines to get involved.

Along with these initiatives, both institutions are co-leading networks with other HEI partners in food integrity (the All-Island Food Integrity Initiative) and in climate and biodiversity (the All-Island Climate and Biodiversity Research Network) involving industry and other stakeholders across the island.

Building on recent funding announcements, further supports are now needed for all-island collaboration between HEIs, industry and other partners, to enable greater knowledge exchange and discovery, postgraduate training, and to support student and staff mobility. We need larger bilateral funding mechanisms in selected areas of shared strategic interest where there is clear benefit to all-island collaboration, such as agri-food, cultural heritage, energy, advanced manufacturing and health. Involving industry and international partners, such mechanisms will bring tangible economic and social benefits as well as supporting the island’s talent pipeline.

Advanced manufacturing

For instance, Queen’s is now preparing to deliver three Belfast region city deal innovation centres in advanced manufacturing, clinical research and secure, connected digital technologies. Linking at scale into UK and all-island networks including organisations like UCD is vital to the success of these partnerships to support the creation of global impact where it truly matters.

The next wave of ambition for cross-Border research and innovation collaboration on the island of Ireland needs to be backed by both governments, reflecting the benefits of partnership. Investment in multiannual programmes will ensure the all-island research and innovation ecosystem performs at a leading level internationally, enhancing our ability to develop and attract talented graduates, researchers and innovators.

It is the ability of our universities to foster such talent and collaboration that underpins innovation and technological change, grows future employment, responds to societal challenges and supports our transition to a resilient, low-carbon all-island economy.

The challenges we face on the island and globally, including climate change, sustainability and digitalisation, require an ever more integrated response through cooperation with partners in the UK, the EU and across the world. Collaboration on education, research and innovation between HEIs North and South is essential to our shared island’s response.

It is now a pivotal time for both governments to build their commitment to all-island research and innovation.

  • Prof Orla Feely is vice-president for research, innovation and impact at University College Dublin; Prof Emma Flynn is pro-vice chancellor for research and enterprise at Queen’s University Belfast.