Authority moves to restrict third-level recruitment

 

THE HIGHER Education Authority has moved to impose a virtual blanket ban on all recruitment in the higher education sector.

In a highly-unusual move, colleges have also been told that continued State funding is contingent on full co-operation with the Employment Control Framework.

The new framework – set out by the HEA in a circular to colleges last week – has prompted widespread dismay across the sector which currently employs over 25,000. One senior university figure said the new directive represents “potentially the biggest threat to academic freedom in a generation”. Another said the framework runs counter to the 1997 Universities Act which guarantees their independence.

The framework imposes a series of new restrictions on recruitment and the continued employment of part-time and contract staff.

Staff at institutes of technology have already signalled that these restrictions could lead to the withdrawal of some courses run by part-time lecturers.

The new framework follows discussions between the Department of Education, the Department of Finance and the HEA.

In his circular, HEA chief executive Tom Boland says the authority will shortly be in contact with individual colleges “in relation to the target of overall employment number reductions for 2009 in respect of your institution and the ongoing monitoring and reporting requirements associated with the Framework”.

Broadly, colleges will be required to maintain employment at 3 per cent below 2008 levels.

The terms of this framework – which took effect from last Wednesday – replace interim arrangements in place since last March.

The HEA memo underlines the new restrictions on recruitment including:

- All outstanding posts that have been submitted to the HEA for approval must now be dealt with under the framework;

- The allocation of exchequer funding will be conditional on adherence to the terms of this framework. Failure to comply with the framework or with the reporting arrangements set out above will be considered to be a breach of the framework;

- The filling of any posts under the terms of the framework will be conditional on an institution operating within a balanced budget or having an agreed plan in place with the HEA for the elimination of budget deficits.

- With very limited exceptions, there will be no filling of vacancies by recruitment, promotion or the payment of an allowance for the performance of duties at a higher level, “except insofar as necessary in the case of academic and support posts that are considered essential to maintaining core service activities”.

But the HEA memo makes it clear that only one in three front-line academic posts will be authorised in exceptional conditions – and only after this meets very stringent conditions.

Broadly, employment in the critical research sector is protected under the new framework.

The HEA will also notify each college of target overall employment number reductions for 2009.

Mr Boland warned that staff reductions may be further adjusted in line with future Government decisions and the report of Bord Snip Nua, which is examining public sector numbers.