‘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.

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11 Comments on “‘Employment control framework’: the impact of public anger?”

  1. Jilly Says:

    The ECF either does what it says on the tin, or it doesn’t. If the document claims that the HEA will ‘enforce’ these controls, why is the HEA now claiming that it won’t? If the document states that these controls will apply to externally-funded posts, why is the HEA now claiming that they (probably) won’t?

    This would seem to be a classic example of FF legacy – we write down one set of rules, but sure those are just the written rules, they won’t necessarily apply to you if your face fits.

    Is this the way that Ruairi Quinn and the new government generally wish to conduct the business of government? If not, then the entire ECF needs to be struck out immediately.

    • In fairness, Jilly, this didn’t have a whole lot to do with the last government (though of course it must accept responsibility): this was entirely dreamt up by senior officials in the Department of Finance.

  2. Alan Says:

    NUI Galway law lecturer and Independent candidate for Seanad Éireann Donncha O’Connell has also commented on this issue, and released the following press release on the subject: http://www.donnchaoconnell.ie/site/view/32/

  3. Dan Says:

    The Minister for Education might also take a serious look at the HEA itself…

    One point I find curious- rightly, several commentators have emphasised the significance of international research collaborations, but these often emerge as synergies between scholars already working within their own countries, demonstrating excellence through projects, publications and international conferences. In my dept. we have been awarded a number of project grants by national funding bodies, aligned to various national scientific research policies, after open competition.

    Is the HEA now abrogating to itself the right to say that another body has no right to award research grants to universities, funds that will be used to employ highly-qualified, skilled and promising young scholars. How can we attract EU or international funding, when we are not allowed to apply for and utilise national funding? Would the HEA prefer that young graduates remain on social welfare, rather than use the knowledge and skills that they have acquired?

  4. Ned Costello Says:

    Quote “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.”

    @university diary – IUA is working on this. Achieving solutions is our priority.

    • Ernie Ball Says:

      Yes, centralisation and micromanagement by ignoramuses are a terrible thing when those doing the managing are the HEA and those being managed are the IUA members.

      But centralisation and micromanagement by ignoramuses are a wonderful thing when those doing the managing are the IUA members and those being managed are ordinary lecturers and researchers.

      Do I have the IUA position right, Ned?

  5. Ned Costello Says:

    @Ernie Ball. Regardless of one’s views of the IUA members, I don’t think that the current ECF will make the lot of “ordinary lecturers and researchers” any better. Regards, Ned

    • Ernie Ball Says:

      We agree that the ECF is a disaster. What we don’t agree on are the draconian proposals the IUA has put forward on tenure, academic freedom, work hours, etc. and which are accurately characterised as ignoramuses micromanaging lecturers.

      I was merely pointing out that the IUA is more than a bit hypocritical on such matters. Centralised power is great when the centre is the University President’s office. Centralised power is terrible when the centre is the HEA. See the problem here?

  6. Liam Delaney Says:

    There is an issue here as to how people in the universities should respond to this. Some of the response at present is getting heated and there is always a tradeoff between the attention this focuses on an issue and the risk that the focus becomes the heat rather than the issue.

    People use extreme language in the Irish public sphere to such an extent that we become immune to it and I don’t think there is wide awareness yet of how damaging this policy is. I have always been proud to be associated with both TCD and UCD and I have collaborations with colleagues in other Irish universities. Paycuts and expenditure reductions are not nice but they did not fundamentally change my attitude that the universities, on balance, were on a broadly correct track albeit with many specific instances of failings.

    This policy has made deeply embarrased about Ireland and about our universities. I am in constant contact and collaboration with colleagues abroad and have spent a lot of the last six years in the Geary Institute and was one of the people partly responsible for the funding success we had there led by Colm and the building of a lot of good international collaborations. Part of this came because we were proud of the place and had a belief that Ireland should aim high. This policy absolutely torpedoes that. It is a complete joke. It fulfills every belief of the cynics that we are a basket case country incapable of doing anything serious.

    Ruadhri Quinn has been talking about relatively trivial issues like the NUI and seems to be ducking this so far. If he adopts an approach whereby this is seen as an administrative issue for the HEA and not a policy issue for him, then I will lose all respect for him as a potential higher education custodian. I think this is a resigning issue if it is not sorted.

  7. Ned Costello Says:

    @Ernie Ball. Happy to discuss that with you directly if you send me your contact details.

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