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Higher Education Futures Group Established by the Royal Irish Academy

The Academy has convened a group of experts to explore framework options for the future development of higher education across the island of Ireland.

The Royal Irish Academy Higher Education Futures Group will explore framework options for the future development of higher education across the island of Ireland. It will examine a number of the key issues likely to influence and define the future shape and delivery of higher education, drawing on national and international voices and perspectives to inform the discussion.

The Higher Education Futures Group, under the leadership of the Academy’s Senior Vice President, Prof Gerry McKenna MRIA, will be advisory. Its range of focus and activities may include inter alia: the role of higher education on the island of Ireland and the effects of COVID-19 on its delivery and demand, the regional roles of higher education and the role of the technological universities, future funding models, and North-South collaboration in teaching and research (including future participation in EU and UK funding programmes).

Welcoming the establishment of this new all-island group, Professor McKenna has said:

“Higher education in Ireland and Northern Ireland has an admirable track record in fulfilling its role as a public good including its contribution to economic, social and cultural development. Major current challenges include dealing with the impact of COVID-19 and its long-term consequences as well as the implications of Brexit for future cooperation and collaboration across the island and with Great Britain and the EU. It is an opportune moment to examine the various issues and their inter-relationships and to outline a framework for the future development of the sector”.

The Higher Education Futures Group will be informed by a wide range of discussions with stakeholders and networks and will use its convening power to stay connected with other relevant discussions ongoing in this area. It will publish outputs as part of a series as they are completed and accepted by the group. It is intended that the totality of outputs, along with a final overview provided by the group, will provide a framework for the maintenance and development of a world class, comprehensive and sustainable higher education sector within the island of Ireland.

It is planned that the programme of work and its outputs should be completed by mid-2021. The Group will have a preliminary meeting in September 2020 at which its priority task will be to identify some of the key issues and questions that should be explored.


  • Professor Gerry McKenna MRIA, Senior Vice President of RIA (Chair)
  • Dr Mark Bailey MRIA (Armagh Observatory)
  • Professor Vani Borooah MRIA (UU)
  • Dr Marie Cowan MRIA (GSNI)
  • Heather Cousins (Observer from the Department for the Economy Northern Ireland)
  • Professor Roger Downer MRIA (UL)
  • Lorna Fitzpatrick (President, Union of Students in Ireland)
  • Professor Anne Fuchs MRIA FBA (UCD)
  • Dr Tony Gaynor, Executive Director, Royal Irish Academy
  • Professor Áine Hyland MRIA (UCC)
  • Professor Karl Leydecker FRSE, (Member of Education Committee, RSE) (University of Aberdeen)
  • Professor Brian MacCraith MRIA (DCU)
  • Dr Martin Mansergh MRIA
  • Jim Miley, CEO, Irish Universities Association
  • Dr Michael Murphy (President, European University Association) (UCC)
  • Professor Brian Norton MRIA, RIA Secretary for Policy and International Relations (TU Dublin)
  • Dr Anne O’Connor (NUIG)
  • Dr Lynn Ramsey (Chair, Board of the National Teaching and Learning Forum) (Board Member Higher Education Authority) (LYIT)
  • Sinéad Riordan, RIA
  • Dr Joseph Ryan (CEO Technological Higher Education Association)
  • Professor Simon Swain FBA (Vice President of British Academy: Research and Higher Education Policy) (University of Warwick)
  • Professor Greg Toner MRIA (QUB)