Pay rises may breach freeze

by Anthony Burke

27 Trinity academics were promoted over the summer, and are set to receive pay rises in a possible breach of the Employment Control Framework for Higher Education. The move is defended by College and attacked in the national media.

Trinity was criticised heavily in the media over the summer for the announcement that it would promote 27 members of the academic staff. 17 academics have been promoted to Senior Lecturer, seven have been promoted to Associate Professor and three to Professor. The current maximum salaries for these positions are €94,035, €110,066 and €145,952 respectively. The salaries of individuals will depend on their point on the scale.

The College is subject to an Employment Control Framework for the Higher Education sector, as part of the public service recruitment and promotion moratorium. It is understood that until this framework expires in December these promotions are in title only. The framework requires that between January 2009 and December 2010 all institutions in the Higher Education sector reduce staff numbers by six percent.

Malcolm Byrne, Higher Education Authority Head of Communications, said that this reduction must take place across the board and at all points on the scale, not just amongst part-time or temporary staff. In the case of Trinity this means a reduction of 115 staff from January 2009 levels of 1892 staff members. After 2010 the ECF will run out but the HEA have said that institutions will then be required to remain at or below the reduced staff levels. Institutions are required to comply or they may face removal of Government funding.

There is some confusion as to whether the promotions are in breach of the ECF conditions. The College plans to implement pay rises when the ECF runs out in December. The public moratorium constitutes a complete ban on promotion, but speaking to Trinity News, Byrne said that there is a “certain level of flexibility in institutions in exceptional circumstances”.

When asked specifically what would happen in the case that Trinity did implement pay rises Mr Byrne said, “the matter is still under discussion, therefore there is no comment at present”.

Dr John Hegarty, Provost, has said in response to Trinity’s drop in university rankings this month that the sustaining of a world class university system requires “the re-instating of institutional autonomy around the appointment of the very best academic staff”.

Newstalk’s Economics Editor, Marc Coleman, writing in the Sunday Independent, compared senior academics to the nobility during the French Revolution and said that the pay of top academics was “perverse”. College has defended its decision saying that the process leading to the promotions was begun in November 2008, before the ECF came into effect. It has also pointed out that without any chance for promotion “there is a danger that excellent academic staff would be lost to international competitors and the quality of teaching, research and innovation would decline.”

Others have spoken out in favour of the College’s decision. Ferdinand von Prondzynski, the former president of DCU who has been tipped as a potential candidate in the Provost elections later this year, said that “micromanaging universities is not a good idea, but more crucially it is not necessary or even helpful in achieving government objectives and targets.”

The HEA has said that compliance with the ECF has been excellent and that the Higher Education Sector is set to achieve the six percent reduction required.

TCD Students’ Union President Nikolai Trigoub-Rotnem gave this comment on the issue: “I think that while, yes there is an argument for the need for promotions to remain competitive, the University management have handled this issue quite poorly. Firstly, it is worrying that the College considers these promotions necessary while cutbacks in essential College services such as the library are deemed acceptable. Secondly, there is a risk that the promotions will be seen as the College sticking two fingers up to the Government.”