Irish higher education: the new ‘Employment Control Framework’

Employment Control Framework for the Higher Education Sector 2011 -2014

1.    Requirement for Public Sector Numbers Control

Under the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014, and in accordance with the Programme of Financial Support for Ireland agreed with the EU/IMF, the Government is committed to reducing the cost of the public sector paybill by, inter alia, reducing public sector numbers to 294,700 by the end of 2014, equating to an average annual reduction of approximately 3,300 in the number of serving public servants over the next 4 years.  In this context, the annual Public Sector Numbers ceilings applicable to the Higher Education sector over this period are now as follows:

Table 1 – Public Sector Numbers Ceilings applying in the HE Sector

Public Sector Numbers – Annual Ceilings

Higher Education (Total)
2011: 24,616
2012: 24,757
2013: 24,879
2014: 25,000

o  ‘Core Staff’ Posts
2011: 18,249
2012: 18,240
2013: 18,232
2014: 18,223

o  Externally funded Contract Research posts
2011: 3,801
2012: 3,901
2013: 3,981
2014: 4,061

o  Other Specialist posts funded from non-Exchequer sources
2011: 2,566
2012: 2,616
2013: 2,666
2014: 2,716

The above ECF ceilings now encompass all staff employed in the Higher Education sector (including contract staff and staff on secondment from other bodies) who are members of public sector pension schemes, irrespective of whether their posts are funded, in whole or in part, by the Exchequer or from non Exchequer sources. (Staff on secondment to other bodies outside of the Higher Education Sector are not included in the ECF for the Higher Education Sector, but are covered by the ECF applying where they are currently employed).

This represents a change from the previous Employment Control Framework, under which only “core staff” of the HE institutions were subject to annual employment ceilings.  However, while staff who are not considered to be “core staff” of the institutions (because they are engaged in discretionary activities that are funded from external sources in the short term – whether Exchequer or non-Exchequer) were excluded from the staffing ceilings under the previous ECF, these staff have entitlements to future pension benefits which represent a deferred cost or liability for the Exchequer.  As such, these “non-core staff” can no longer be disregarded when it comes to applying overall Government policy on numbers control in the public sector (as a means of containing future Exchequer expenditure requirements), and therefore such posts must, in future, be included in some manner in the overall public sector numbers ceilings applying.

However, in recognition of the differences between “core staff” posts and “non-core staff” posts that are externally funded, separate arrangements will apply under the new ECF / numbers ceilings in relation to these two categories of post, as set out in further detail below.

The annual employment ceilings, and the reduction in numbers required to comply with these ceilings, are without prejudice to any further decisions that may be taken by the Government on funding or staffing levels.

2.    Continued Application of the Moratorium in the Higher Education Sector

Delivering the numbers reductions required in the core staff area requires that the general Moratorium applying to all public sector recruitment, promotion and/or payment of allowances for the performance of duties at a higher level must remain in place, as the principal mechanism for achieving the numbers reductions required to meet the new staffing ceilings set by Government.  In light of the very challenging budgetary position, and taking account of the drive for efficiency savings under the Croke Park Agreement, it is expected that bodies will prioritise, reconfigure and reorganise their business to manage within the lower staffing ceilings now applying.

In respect of the higher education sector, a new Employment Control Framework will be put in place to provide for the application of the Moratorium to third level institutions over the period 2011 to 2014, subject to the continued oversight of the Department of Finance and the Department of Education and Skills, and also subject to the legal provisions applying.

The arrangements that applied up to 31 December 2010, in relation to delegated exemptions and exceptions under the Moratorium, will no longer apply as heretofore, but as set out in the following paragraphs.

3.    Scope of the Framework

The framework shall encompass three broad categories of post, according to their nature and their source of funding, and specific terms and conditions shall apply to the filling of vacancies in each of these categories, as set out hereunder:

(a)            Core staff, i.e. mainstream posts funded from the Core Grant, undergraduate tuition fees (including grant in lieu of fees), Student Services Charge and the new Student Contribution being introduced in 2011;

(b)           Contract research and related dedicated research project posts funded from external income (either grants from other public funding agencies or non-Exchequer sources of funding), which are required to undertake additional discretionary activities in pursuance of the SSTI/Smart Economy agenda;

(c)            Other Specialist project-based posts funded from non-Exchequer sources (EU grants, private sector income, international student income, postgraduate and part-time fees – but not including full-time EU undergraduate tuition fees/student contributions as non-Exchequer, non-core income), which are required to undertake additional discretionary activities in pursuance of key strategic objectives.

4.    Conditions of Application of the Revised Framework

It is acknowledged that the higher education sector is likely to continue to face increasing student number enrolments while at the same time having to operate with reduced Exchequer provision for recurrent purposes.  Taking account of this, and in order to provide some flexibility to institutions in relation to the maintenance of essential course/module provision and research capability, within the restrictions imposed by the new multi-annual employment ceilings, institutions will be allowed to operate an employment control framework within the terms set out in the following paragraphs, subject to the following conditions:

(a)     The total number of staff employed in the sector, including all permanent staff (academic, administrative, research, technical, ancillary etc) and all contract staff (academic, administrative, research, technical, ancillary etc) who are members of public sector pension schemes, and irrespective of whether such posts are funded (in whole or in part) by Exchequer funds and/or non-Exchequer funds, will be subject to the annual employment ceilings specified in Table 1, in paragraph 1, above.

The HEA will allocate these employment ceilings across institutions, taking into account the student numbers, staffing levels and other relevant factors in each institution.

(b)    The reductions required in the number of core staff must be achieved in a balanced manner across the grading structure and should not be concentrated at the lower grade levels, i.e. the framework should not result in ‘grade-drift’ within institutions. Paragraph 9 below sets out the requirements in relation to the distribution of posts within institutions, which must be complied with in this regard.

(c)     Institutions will continue to respond positively to student participation demand and ensure that quality is maintained. Given the substantial increase in student intake over the last number of years, this will inevitably lead to a significant knock-on increase in overall student numbers for the next number of years.

(d)    Institutions will also continue to engage proactively with the Smart Economy agenda and with sectoral labour market activation and other initiatives.

(e)     The filling of any posts under the terms of this Framework will be conditional on an institution operating strictly within a balanced budget and having an agreed plan in place with the HEA for the elimination of any accumulated deficits.

(f)     The filling of any posts under the terms of this Framework should, wherever possible, give priority to the employment of new or recently qualified staff over those who are retired.

(g)     Re-employment of retired staff should only occur in very limited exceptional circumstances and in these cases the salaries offered may not exceed 20% of the full-time salary an individual was in receipt of at the time of their retirement, adjusted to reflect the application of Government pay policy in the period since their date of retirement – including in particular the application of salary adjustments imposed under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009.  Any such proposed arrangements should be put in advance to the HEA.

5.      Conditions governing the replacement of Core Staff (as defined in Paragraph 3(a) above)

Notwithstanding the general principle that there should be no recruitment, promotion or payment of an allowance for the performance of duties at a higher level, and subject to the agreement/adherence to, and achievement of, the conditions set out at Paragraph 4 above, and in particular compliance with the employment ceilings for institutions and for the sector generally, institutions will be permitted to fill vacancies arising in the core staff area that are considered to be necessary for the continued delivery of essential services. Essential services are those which are required to deliver academic programmes, services to students, essential governance and management of the institution, including financial administration, and to comply with regulatory requirements.

In assessing whether the filling of a vacancy is necessary to deliver essential services, each institution must assess the following factors:

  • The service to be provided and the consequences for services of not filling the post;
  • The capacity for redeployment of staff from another area within the institution, or, failing that, for redeployment of surplus staff from other higher education institutions or other public service bodies, in accordance with the terms of the “Croke Park” Agreement;
  • Whether all available lecturing capacity has been fully used (the processes in place to confirm this should be auditable e.g. assessment and/or reorganisation of timetabled hours/workload);
  • The capacity to provide the service from non-Exchequer sources.

Vacancies should be filled by way of fixed term or fixed purpose contracts, as a “bridging mechanism” in terms of facilitating the orderly permanent, structural reduction in the numbers of staff serving in the public service, in line with Government policy.  Limited exceptions may arise in the case of posts where scarce or specialist skills of appropriate quality cannot be secured on the basis of a fixed term / fixed purpose appointment.  In such cases, proposals should be put in advance to the HEA.

6.      Conditions governing the filling of contract research and related dedicated research project posts funded from external income (as defined in Paragraph 3(b) above)

Higher education institutions are involved in contracted work under a range of schemes operated by state agencies such as SFI, HRB, EPA and Teagasc, as well as under EU funded programmes.  Schemes such as PRTLI may also involve such contracts, as may contracted work carried out for organisations in the private or voluntary sectors.

Notwithstanding the general principle that there should be no recruitment, promotion or payment of an allowance for the performance of duties at a higher level, and subject to the agreement/adherence to, and achievement of, the conditions set out at Paragraph 4 above, and in particular compliance with the overall staffing ceilings for institutions and for the sector generally, including the relevant ceilings applying to contract research posts funded from external income, institutions will be permitted to appoint contract staff to research and related dedicated research project posts funded from sources external to the institution where this is required to undertake additional discretionary activities in pursuance of the SSTI/Smart Economy agenda in accordance with a plan agreed with the contracting agency and the HEA.

The HEA will be responsible for monitoring and reporting on the number of such posts in place across the HE sector, in the context of the relevant employment ceilings applying.  Therefore, any proposals to appoint such new contract research staff or to renew such existing contracts must be put in advance to the HEA.

The specific posts that may be filled under this delegated sanction are confined to researcher posts and related dedicated research project posts.  No core staff posts (including administrative posts) may be filled under this delegated sanction arrangement.

Appointments in these instances must be on the basis of fixed term or fixed purpose contracts, whose term shall not exceed the scheme duration.  Such contracts must also include a specific clause providing for early termination before the specified expiry date of the contract in the event of the envisaged funding stream being terminated or reduced by the funding agency.  A specific reference to such a clause must be included in the acknowledgement of the terms and conditions attaching to the offer of the post to be signed by the potential employee.

The rates of pay for the posts must not be in breach of public sector pay policy.

In recognition of the fact that staff in these externally funded posts have entitlements to future pension benefits which represent a deferred cost or liability for the Exchequer, any such new posts created or any renewal / renegotiation of such existing contracts will be subject to an employer’s pension contribution charge of 20% of gross pay, representing the estimated contribution required from the project funder, in addition to the employee’s own personal pension contribution, to cover the deferred cost to the Exchequer associated with the future pension entitlements of the post holder.

7.      Conditions governing the filling of other Specialist project-based posts funded from non-Exchequer sources (as defined in Paragraph 3(c) above)

Notwithstanding the general principle that there should be no recruitment, promotion or payment of an allowance for the performance of duties at a higher level, and subject to the agreement/adherence to, and achievement of, the conditions set out at Paragraph 4 above, and in particular compliance with the overall staffing ceilings for institutions and for the sector generally, including the relevant ceilings applying to other Specialist posts funded from non-Exchequer sources, institutions will be permitted to appoint contract staff to certain specialist project-based posts funded from non-Exchequer sources where there is a specific identified non-Exchequer revenue stream capable of funding the post and where the post is required to undertake additional discretionary activities in pursuance of key strategic objectives, in accordance with a plan agreed with the HEA.

The HEA will be responsible for monitoring and reporting on the number of these non-Exchequer funded specialist posts in place across the HE sector, in the context of the relevant employment ceilings applying.  Therefore, any proposals to appoint such new non-Exchequer funded specialist staff or to renew existing contracts of such staff must be put in advance to the HEA.

The specific posts that may be filled under this delegated sanction are confined to lecturing and other relevant specialist project-based posts that are fully funded from non-Exchequer sources.  No core staff posts (including administrative posts) may be filled under this delegated sanction arrangement.

Appointments in these instances must be on the basis of fixed term or fixed purpose contracts, whose term shall not exceed the duration of the projected revenue stream.  Such contracts must also include a specific clause providing for early termination before the specified expiry date of the contract in the event of the envisaged funding stream being terminated or not being realised.  A specific reference to such a clause must be included in the acknowledgement of the terms and conditions attaching to the offer of the post to be signed by the potential employee.

The rates of pay for the posts must not be in breach of public sector pay policy.

In recognition of the fact that staff in these non-Exchequer funded posts have entitlements to future pension benefits which represent a deferred cost or liability for the Exchequer, any such new posts created or any renewal / renegotiation of such existing contracts will be subject to an employer’s pension contribution charge of 20% of gross pay, representing the estimated contribution required from the non-Exchequer source, in addition to the employee’s own personal pension contribution, to cover the deferred cost to the Exchequer associated with the future pension entitlements of the post holder.

8.    Other Requests for Exceptions

In line with Government policy, any requests for exceptions to the Moratorium that are not covered by the delegated arrangements set out in Paragraphs 4 to 7 above must be agreed by the Department of Finance prior to the awarding or renewal of the  employment contract. This applies equally to contacts arising from the replacement of permanent and contract posts – which includes the renewal of fixed term contracts on expiry.

In the context of fixed term employees, contracts must be reviewed on a case by case basis. The Moratorium must not be used as a means of avoiding Contracts of Indefinite Duration (CIDs).  Section 13(1)(d) of the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act 2003 provides that an employer shall not penalize an employee by dismissing the employee from his/her employment if the dismissal is wholly or partly for or connected with the purpose of the avoidance of a fixed-term contract being deemed to be a contract of indefinite duration.  In making a decision as to whether to renew or not to renew a Fixed Term Contract, no regard should be had as to whether the renewal of a Fixed Term Contract would bring the employee over the four year threshold specified at Section 9(2) of the Act.  Section 9(2) does not, however, prevent an employer from renewing a Fixed Term Contract if there are genuine objective grounds for so doing (Section 9(4) refers).  Employers must ensure that they comply with the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act 2003 and in particular Sections 8 and 9 thereof.

9.    Avoidance of “Grade Drift”

In order to ensure that there is no “grade drift” in the distribution of posts across the sector, arising from the implementation of the numbers reductions required under the ECF and the exercise of the delegated sanction arrangements for the filling of certain posts, as provided for above,

  • in the case of academic posts in universities, the distribution of such posts across the sector, as between the lecturer grades and the Professor grades, must not change from the position as applying on 31 December 2010;
  • in the case of academic posts in Institutes of Technology, the distribution of such posts across the sector, as between the assistant lecturer / lecturer grades, on the one hand, and Senior Lecturer (SL1, SL2 and SL3) and other higher grades, must not change from the position as applying on 31 December 2010;  and
  • in the case of all other grades/posts, the overall percentage of posts which have a pay scale which, at the maximum point, exceeds €70,000 must not increase above the percentage applying on 31 December 2010.

Furthermore, within the overall restrictions on academic posts outlined above, additional restrictions will apply to changes in the distributions within the groups of academic grades.  Further details of these restrictions will be issued by the HEA shortly.

Details of the number of posts in the sector at these levels on 31 December 2010 should be provided by 31 March 2011, to serve as a benchmark for future monitoring purposes.

10.       Accounting Arrangements for Pensions Purposes

The new employer’s pension contributions to be collected in respect of all new externally funded posts, or renewals of such existing posts, together with all other employee and employer pension contributions should be retained by institutions and used exclusively for the purposes of paying pensions.  (This arrangement will be subject to review when the new single pension scheme for all new entrants to the public sector is introduced).

In order to ensure full transparency for accounting purposes, institutions will be required to account for all pension related receipts and payments, on a gross basis, in a Pensions Control Account.  Within this account, any pension contributions and payments relating to staff who were members of the former funded schemes which transferred to the NPRF under the Financial Measures (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 must continue to be identified and accounted for separately from all other pension contributions / payments.

Any overall surplus balance remaining in the Pensions Control Account at the end of a year must be surrendered to the HEA.  Where a deficit arises in the Pensions Control Account at the end of a year, it will be funded by means of the HEA’s grant allocation system.

Each institution’s Pensions Control Account must be included as a disclosure note in its annual financial statements and accordingly will be subject to audit by its auditors and/or the C&AG.

11.    Monitoring of Framework

This Framework shall be monitored by an Employment Control Framework Monitoring Committee comprised of the HEA, which shall chair the Committee, and members of the Departments of Education & Skills, and Finance. The Committee, at its discretion, shall invite the IUA, IOTI and others, as relevant, to meet with it from time to time to discuss matters of common concern.

12.       Reporting and Records

Institutions shall maintain appropriate records in relation to their observance of these conditions and shall make these records available for inspection by the HEA and the Employment Control Framework Monitoring Committee, as required, from time to time.

Staff numbers shall continue to be reported on a quarterly basis.  These returns shall include all staff employed in the institution (including all permanent staff, all contract staff and all staff on secondment from other bodies) who are members of public sector pension schemes, irrespective of whether the posts are funded (in whole or in part) by Exchequer funds or from non-Exchequer sources.  (Staff on secondment to other bodies should not be included in an institution’s returns, but will be returned where they are currently employed).

13.       Conditions

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 required reporting arrangements will be considered to be a breach of the Framework.

14.    Review

The Framework will be reviewed in 2012.

15.    Contact

Enquiries regarding the content of this Circular should be addressed to Louise Sherry lsherry@hea.ie or Valerie Harvey vharvey@hea.ie.

10 March 2011

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3 Comments on “Irish higher education: the new ‘Employment Control Framework’”

  1. Al Says:

    Presumably extra staff will be needed to follow this discipline!
    Quiet comrade, or they will send you to the gaeltacht gulag Irish college.

  2. Mike Lyons Says:

    This is an amazing attack on the future of research and innovation in Irish Universities.

  3. Amanda Ralph Says:

    I’m interested in learning whether the ECF ceilings encompass Visiting Lecturers who due to the small amount of hours are not be entitled to be members of public sector pension schemes. It seems from my reading of your post that they would not be included in the ECF ceiling but I’m wondering if the information you have posted is the final and official position of the HEA?


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