Provost called to heel by HEA on recruitment ban

Evidence suggests that Trinity College Dublin is not adhering to the Higher Education Authority (HEA)’s restrictions on the recruitment, replacement or promotion of staff at third-level institutions.

The government embargo, introduced in March, has received strong opposition from both the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). A further Employment Control Framework was issued by the HEA in July, stating that “no public service post, however arising, may be filled by recruitment, promotion, nor payment of an allowance”.

The University sector has been instructed to reduce the number of teaching posts by 3pc by December, of which there are currently 4,500 full-time positions. Described by the IFUT as “anti-democratic” and “hugely damaging”, this latest recessionary measure impacting upon higher education is part of a wider policy to cut the 20 billion Euro public service pay and pensions bill, which accounts for approximately 36% of Government expenditure.

It is also understood that the state funding TCD currently receives is contingent on adherence to the Framework, created in coordination with the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Education and Science.

Provost John Hegarty has expressed his opposition towards the decision of the HEA, having “stressed the importance of protecting the University’s autonomy in the management of its affairs”, during a meeting of the University Council.

The new directive explicitly prohibits TCD from filling any vacancies without the consent of the Minister for Finance. Even then vacancies may only be filled in “exceptional circumstances”. In order to cope with the reduction of staff levels, TCD employees are expected to increase the scope of their roles. In a Moratorium on Recruitment and Promotions in the Public Service, the Minister for Finance has suggested the “redeployment” of staff where “sudden surges of activity cannot be adequately met by the existing staff.”

The University Communications Officer Ms. Sally-Anne Fisher revealed that, contrary to the above regulation, the Minister for Finance and HEA are not involved in the recruitment or promotion of TCD staff. The Staff Office are continuing to advertise vacancies, even for administrative posts which “generally may not be filled” as stated by the Moratorium. According to TCD Communications, the College have yet to agree to the conditions of the Employment Control Framework.

Despite noting that posts funded by the Government could not be filled without external consent, the Provost says “the College would not be seeking HEA approval for core-funded posts”, effectively excluding the HEA from TCD’s regulatory process.

The College will continue to fill posts which are self-funded or financed through research projects such as the Science Foundation Ireland Funding Scheme. New TCD positions are being created on these grounds, such as that of Civic Engagement Officer which is financed by the Student Services Committee.
Mike Jennings, general secretary of the IFUT, describes the changes as a “blanket ruling which undermines all decent norms of security of employment”. Mr. Jennings says that the Framework is a breach of both EU contract law and the 1997 Universities Act, which states universities may “appoint such and so many persons to be its employees as it thinks appropriate.”

Other measures adopted by the Government to combat the recession include a graduate training scheme for unemployed university-leavers, which has led to accusations of conflicting policy interests among trade unionists.

“Figures show that more people want to get into higher education now. In the past few months the Minister, with great fanfare, announced not one but two new schemes to encourage jobless people to return to university. Yet, at the same time this same Minister is slashing the number of staff who should teach these new entrants”, says Mr. Jennings, who denounces the Government’s policy as “politically stupid”.

SU Education Officer Ashley Cooke supports the view that universities should remain autonomous in their own affairs, saying the Government do not possess the “necessary knowledge and expertise” to determine interdepartmental needs within the College.

USI President Peter Mannion says “students are going to be the big losers again due to this recruitment ban.” The USI launched an appeal to the Department of Education to review the ban which it claims will “only further impede the education of students.”

The Department of Finance denies that its policy is an embargo introduced to reduce public sector employment, stating it may be waived in “very limited circumstances”. It expects to review the Employment Control Framework in July 2010.