‘Employment control framework’: the impact of public anger?
It is probably true to say that the level of dismay and anger occasioned by the new ’employment control framework’ in Ireland has taken the authorities by surprise. Apart from what has been written in this blog, there has been strong criticism by at least two candidates (Colm Kearney and Des Fitzgerald) for the post of Provost of TCD, by University of Limerick economist Stephen Kinsella, by NUI Galway lecturer and Seanad candidate Donncha O’Connell, in an Irish Times editorial, and on 9thlevelireland. To demonstrate the level of concern felt, there is also a Twitter hashtag, #ecf11, where the comments on the ECF have been uniformly negative.
In the light of this strength of feeling, the Higher Education Authority has now commented, and the gist of the response is that the intentions underlying the ECF and its impact have been exaggerated. So the HEA is quoted in the Irish Times as saying:
‘Overall the role of the HEA is one of oversight, not control and it is the intention of the HEA to work with the sector to ensure that the objectives of the Government can be met in the most efficient way. The intention is to provide continuing recruitment and promotion freedom to the institutions in the context of the wider public service moratorium.’
The statement also seeks to reassure the sector by saying that HEA approval will not be required in all circumstances, that fully funded research posts will not be affected, and that there is no intention of fining institutions for not adhering to the ECF terms. While this may reflect the HEA’s state of mind, it is not what is said in the ECF itself. So for example, section 13 states that ‘the allocation of Exchequer funding will be conditional on adherence to the terms of this Framework’. Furthermore, the claim by the HEA that there will be no fines is totally at odds with the Authority’s reported threat last month to impose ‘massive fines’ on TCD for breaking the ECF in relation to staff promotions.
However, the HEA response indicates that the force of the public reaction to the ECF has had an impact. The approach of the Irish Universities Association has (we must assume) been to work behind the scenes to address the issues raised by the new ECF, but sometimes proposals can have such a serious effect that a more public opposition is called for. The ECF as communicated has the capacity to destroy Ireland’s higher education system. Strong resistance must continue until it has been withdrawn. It is not just that some of the details of the policy are oppressive: the whole idea (even in its first incarnation) is totally incompatible with a modern, innovative and autonomous university system. There is much at stake.