Departments facing crisis over staff shortages

There are fears for the future of Arts Block departments as College plans to continue trimming staff numbers. The decision not to replace retired staff is a practice that was approved by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) in 2011. Under the HEA’s employment control framework, third-level institutions are required to reduce their staff number by 2014.

The failure to replace retired staff in College as a “regrettably familiar” feature of government policy, according to  Mike Jennings, General Secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT). He told Trinity News this weekend that the situation has led to increased competition for funding between disciplines.

Though a number of academics vacancies in College have been recently filled with help from private funding and endowments, the increasing role played by private donations in staff hiring and replacement since 2011 also raises questions relating to the independence of incoming academics. “I would be very concerned at how this would affect the duty of academics to tell and seek the truth in all cases,” Jennings told Trinity News on Sunday.  “Does anyone believe, for instance, that a pharmaceutical company would sponsor research into new treatments which do not need their products, or that banks would finance social research into alternative community financing?”

The increasing privatisation of staff hiring puts funding for the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at particular risk, as private sponsors are more likely to favour funding disciplines such as science and medicine. A high-ranking academic within the School of Drama, Film and Music has told Trinity News that it is unlikely that a number of its older staff will be replaced when they leave. The imminent retirement of four senior staff, he said, will leave the School facing significant staff shortages within the next two years. The Department of Music will shortly lose two lecturers, while the Department of Drama will lose one staff member. The Department of Film Studies is also expected to lose one lecturer, reducing its number of staff from four to three. However, it is understood that the Department of Film receives private funding from one particularly wealthy benefactor, which may assist it in hiring another lecturer.

Unions have long identified staff shortages in third-level education as an area of major concern. Speaking to Trinity News, Jennings said that lecturers in Ireland have been “almost irresponsibly responsible” in managing to cover up their increasing workload in recent times. The union leader, who recently launched a public campaign against the increasing marketisation of third-level education, also said that “it would have been better if we been more militant in the past.”

In a speech at the Trinity Global Graduate Forum on November 8th, Provost Patrick Prendergast indicated that he would consider privatisation as an option for the university. Its current public nature, he said, meant that College is “subject to the same restrictions and controls as other public bodies.” In particular, Prendergast expressed concern that “different pieces of legislation” may “tie our hand and limit our independence” in relation to “decisions on hiring, promotion, remuneration, research funding, and tuition fees.”

The provost also suggested that he would view the ability to enforce compulsory redundancy on staff as a benefit of future privatisation. College “staff are now public servants, and redundancy can only be voluntary,” he said.

In a statement to Trinity News later that week, the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) noted that that the provost “seems to be very agitated by his inability to make staff redundant.” The union’s position, Jennings said, is “that we have conceded substantial reductions in pay in return for job security and insist on both sides of that bargain been kept.”

IFUT last clashed with College in November of the previous academic year, when it threatened to withdraw its co-operation with the terms of the Croke Park Agreement over College’s refusal to reinstate three workers who were made compulsorily redundant. The move came two months after the Department of Education ordered that College immediately implement the Labour Court ruling that three staff members, one library worker and two lecturers, be reinstated.

Catherine Healy

Editor of Trinity News. Interested in politics, history and all forms of media.