Ireland: time to end ’employment control’
For the past two years a moratorium on recruitment has been operating in the Irish public service. The government made it clear from the outset that this moratorium was also to apply to the universities and institutes of technology, but after some unusually strong resistance from the sector an adapted version was imposed, known by a rather Stalinist sounding name, the ’employment control framework’. This was the subject of further discussions and some adjustments, and under the final version a cut of 6 per cent of staffing was applied between 31 December 2008 and 31 December 2010, which we will shortly have reached. The signs so far are that the universities (I don’t have information on the IOTs, and would welcome some comments on that) have managed to achieve this target. In addition, under the ’employment control framework’ all promotions have also been stopped.
It now seems likely that the ’employment control framework’ will be extended into 2011, with further staffing cuts. But just in case anyone is still listening, it seems right to me to put forward a strong case against any such move. Here are the arguments.
First, universities are not full of easily transferable persons. The ’employment control framework’ in essence obliges institutions to freeze a significant proportion of vacancies as they arise. But vacancies can occur in areas that are of huge strategic priority, as well as those where staffing reductions can be more easily managed. The logic in other organisations might be to transfer staff between areas, but you cannot do that with academics. A history lecturer is not competent to teach physics, no matter how much retraining you offer. Therefore the consequence is that areas that suffer a disproportionately large number of vacancies are at risk of closure, even if they are in a strategically vital area.
Secondly (and this is related to the above point), the ’employment control framework’ forces universities to behave non-stratgically, as vacancies cannot on the whole be planned.
Thirdly, the ’employment control framework’ places at risk the availability of academic expertise, which is the key ingredient in educational quality. As we reduce staffing more and more, quality comes under direct threat (a point which we have arguably long passed). As the system’s quality is its main selling point, particularly to overseas students, we are at risk of making our higher education unattractive to its future customers.
Fourthly, the ’employment control framework’ is a direct assault on university autonomy, as it is a mechanism for detailed operational control by the state and its agencies. It is also not a good device for achieving government aims: it would be far more logical to decide on budget allocations, and then leave it to the universities to decide how to manage within their means.
The ’employment control framework’ is a bureaucrat’s solution to an education budget problem. It has already done significant damage to the sector, and it must be removed as a matter of urgency. Maintaining it jeopardises quality and excellence and induces poor morale and staff commitment. It undermines good management and planning. It is bad, and it is wrong. It must not be continued.