Scotland-Ireland bilateral review report

The report and recommendations for this review set out current areas of bilateral cooperation and identify opportunities for cooperation and joint initiatives in new areas, which are devolved to Scotland, over the next 5 years from 2021 to 2025.

Academic and Research Links

Ireland and Scotland are steeped in the tradition of education and shared learning, dating back to the time of St Colmcille, whose monastery on Iona provided the first centre of literacy in the region. 

The University of St Andrews and Trinity College Dublin are two of the oldest universities on these islands, founded in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Facilitated by the Common Travel Area, each country has traditionally hosted each other's students and academics, and the links between institutions are strong. Academic communities have been enriched and diversified by this mobility. 

Iona Abbey.
© Visit Scotland/Paul Tomkins
See image title for description
University of Glasgow Main Building.
© University of Glasgow
See image title for description

Shared educational heritage remains a strong part of the relationship, and East-West collaboration will continue to be a prominent feature of the Irish and Scottish academic and research systems. This collaboration is partly founded on personal and professional relationships between teachers, academics and researchers, but has been increasingly facilitated through various formal programmes. 

Ireland and Scotland work together on primary and secondary schooling at official level. The CEOs of the teaching regulatory bodies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland meet regularly, and Ireland and Scotland collaborate on teaching regulation, state examinations, schools inspectorate bodies and curriculum development. 

Shared tradition results in a similar culture and structures in the higher education sector. This has led to excellent cooperation at academic level, with productive research links. Scotland and Ireland rank in the top 20 global countries in the 2019 Incites Essential Science indicators, and share a strong commitment to developing innovation and knowledge-based societies equipped to address national and global challenges. 

Much recent cooperation has taken place under EU research frameworks such as Erasmus and Horizon, and there is a strong wish to continue such collaboration into the future. In 2019, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) hosted a meeting between the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the Irish Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, to open a dialogue for more formal engagement between SFI and the SFC, of greater importance when access to EU funding changes. SFI collaboration with Scottish researchers is also facilitated through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and other funding bodies. The Irish Research Council (IRC), together with SFI and UKRI, have jointly established the UK-Ireland research funders' forum to enable regular strategic dialogue. 

Questionnaire responses on the Academic and Research theme were substantial, detailed and almost universally positive. There is an obvious appetite for further engagement, tempered by concern about the loss
of access to EU funding programmes.

Within the humanities, Irish and Scottish studies are vibrant. The Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Aberdeen was inaugurated by then-President Mary McAleese in 1999. The Centre for New Irish Studies in Trinity College Dublin, formerly the Centre for Irish-Scottish and Comparative Studies, manages a number of linked research projects in Irish and Irish-Scottish studies. The Scottish-Irish Migration Initiative (SIMI), a University of Edinburgh and University College Dublin initiative, is another example of academic collaboration that brings together Scottish and Irish scholars to develop research in an area of significant current interest. 

Looking Forward

Both governments will work with partners across this sector to create opportunities for research that support the development of each of the themes in this report.
Both governments will also continue to foster opportunities for deepened, and more structured, collaboration between institutions and research and innovation bodies.

Trinity College Dublin.
© Tourism Ireland
See image title for description

Case Study: Boyne to Brodgar

The Boyne to Brodgar initiative is a network of museums, universities, independent experts, societies, trusts and local authorities, with extensive links to community groups. It can undertake a whole range of activities which focus on Neolithic heritage as a means of celebrating and furthering Scotland-Ireland links, creating several significant legacies.

Neolithic monuments (from around 4000 BC to 2500 BC) are a significant feature of Scotland's and Ireland's rich shared heritage. There are over 1000 upstanding monuments from the Neolithic period in Scotland and Ireland, many of international significance, including
World Heritage Sites, visited by tens of thousands of people every year. 

Boyne to Brodgar: Making Monuments, Creating Communities is an innovative project, focusing on the Neolithic monuments across Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland. These range from the iconic World Heritage Sites of Brú na Bóinne and the Heart of
Neolithic Orkney to less well-known henges and timber circles. This international, interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral initiative is co-operative, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable, featuring archaeologists, heritage professionals, educators and community
groups, in the UK and Ireland and beyond.

The Ring of Brodgar - part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.
© VisitScotland / Kenny Lam
See image title for description

Boyne to Brodgar aims to:

  • Improve understanding of these monuments, the people who built and used them, and their connections, by fostering and promoting research. 
  • Assist heritage professionals to create policies and strategies for the investigation, preservation and presentation of these monuments, developing joined-up and sustainable heritage tourism trails of Neolithic monuments across Ireland and Scotland. 
  • Empower local communities to take pride in and protect their prehistoric heritage through co-developed projects about Neolithic monuments. 

Membership is informal and currently includes University College Dublin, University of the Highlands and Islands, National Museums Scotland, National Museum of Ireland, National Monuments Service, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland, Department for Communities Northern Ireland, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, German Archaeology Institute, Northlight Heritage, and Orkney Islands Council.  

Newgrange – a Neolithic passage tomb which forms part of the
Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site.
© Tourism Ireland
See image title for description


  • The Scottish Government and the Government of Ireland (through the Department of Foreign Affairs) will partner with the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) and the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), to jointly fund structured research collaboration to harness the expertise of their fellowships. Across the five thematic areas of this review, this will support policy development, with appropriate support from Irish and Scottish funders. 
  • Ireland and Scotland will pilot a structured collaboration between Irish and Scottish researchers and officials coordinated by the Scottish Policy and Research Exchange (SPRE), focussed on shared challenges identified in each of the five themes of the review. 
  • The Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh and the Scottish Government Office in Dublin will facilitate and host academic collaboration events to enhance existing research networks and support new activity. 
  • The Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh and the Scottish Government Office in Dublin will work with partners to establish networks for our respective graduate cohorts and alumni, with a specific focus on networking opportunities for young professionals and early career researchers. 
  • Irish and Scottish education officials will finalise a new framework for cooperation with the aim of enhancing existing collaboration and developing new initiatives in the areas of further education, higher education and research and innovation. Finding ways to maintain and encourage student mobility between Ireland and Scotland, including investigating the development of dedicated mobility programmes between Scottish and Irish higher education institutions, will be a priority. 


By the end of 2018, there were 102 collaborations with researchers based in Scotland supported by Science Foundation Ireland.

Areas of shared medical research include:
(Ireland-Scotland Review Questionnaire).

Areas of shared arts, humanities, and sciences research:
Rural development
Social farming
(Ireland-Scotland Review Questionnaire).


In 2018-19, there were 1,970 Irish domiciled students studying at a Scottish institution. (Higher Education Statistics Agency).

In 2017, 46 students came from Scottish Universities to study in Ireland through the Erasmus+ programme. (British Council).



Back to top