State insists on jobs freeze at third level

 

THE GOVERNMENT has imposed a recruitment ban across the higher education sector and warned colleges that failure to comply will see them lose their funding.

In a related move, both UCC and UCD have been told their deficits totalling over €35 million will no longer be tolerated.

UCD has a cumulative deficit of €20 million, while the deficit at UCC is over €15 million. In recent weeks, the Higher Education Authority has told both universities to make the cuts necessary to rein in their deficits.

In a letter to college heads yesterday, the HEA also said there “should be no filling of vacancies by recruitment, promotion or the payment of an allowance for the performance of duties at a higher level”.

Any exception to this rule should be agreed in each case with the HEA, whose letter is based on a direction from the Department of Education and the Department of Finance.

The HEA said it had been “requested to advise universities that the allocation of [future] exchequer funding will be conditional on adherence to these arrangements . . . on ‘an employment control framework’.”

UCD sources say the HEA directive will raise new doubts about its veterinary hospital and the National Folklore Collection. Between them, these account for about €8 million of UCD’s €20 million deficit.

UCD is angry that the veterinary hospital, which accounts for €7 million of the deficit, is not adequately supported.

UCD sources complain that the dental hospital in TCD receives over €12 million in annual subvention.

Last night one senior university figure told The Irish Times: “We are facing the most severe range of cutbacks in our history. This is unprecedented.”

Senior staff across the university sector are predicting severe cuts in services to students.

While contract staff are set to be hit by the cutbacks, there is no question of job losses among permanent staff at present.

But one university president said last night that job losses were “inevitable” before long.

In recent weeks, the HEA has held a series of meetings with each university, in advance of next week’s budget.

Trinity College Dublin, NUI Maynooth and NUI Galway have kept within budget in the past year, but all predict deficits in the coming year. University of Limerick is expecting a deficit of just over €1 million in the current academic year, with a cumulative deficit of about €3.9 million. DCU is within budget.

In recent weeks, universities told the HEA that they are closing libraries early, making cutbacks in student services and watching their buildings fall into disrepair because of a lack of funds,

Minister for Education and Science Batt O’Keeffe wants tighter financial control of the universities, which, he says, have received a 33 per cent funding increase in the past four years.

At the Minister’s request the Comptroller and Auditor General is also conducting an audit of higher education spending.

The universities hope the return of fees will help generate income.