Employment Control Framework

I reproduce the full text of the ECF over the page (via 9th level Ireland blog). I really would encourage people commenting to read the document first as its not very long. Some of the argument has conflated the provisions with university funding, with some people complaining about the ECF because it limits academic numbers and some people supporting it basically for the same reason. The issue is not the resourcing but rather the process of hiring in universities and the stipulation in this document that all university hiring will need to be specifically approved by a small central government committee along with similar provisions about reallocating people across institutions and so on.

Employment Control Framework for the Higher Education Sector 2011-2014

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:

1. Requirement for Public Sector Numbers Control

Table 1 – Public Sector Numbers Ceilings applying in the HE Sector
Public Sector Numbers – Annual Ceilings 2011 2012 2013 2014
Higher Education (Total) 24,616 24,757 24,879 25,000
‘Core Staff’ Posts 18,249 18,240 18,232 18,223
Externally funded Contract Research posts 3,801 3,901 3,981 4,061
Other Specialist posts funded from non-Exchequer sources 2,566 2,616 2,666 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

158 thoughts on “Employment Control Framework”

  1. The ECF is justified here as part of a policy of reducing the public sector paybill. The recent extension to “non-core” staff is then justified because of the pension liabilities arising, even if they are not Exchequer funded.
    All of this seems fair enough but…if you want to control P.Q why put limits on Q? It makes much more sense to limit the total financial commitments entered into without additional restrictions that are totally unnecessary. Let the institutions decide how they are going to satisfy those restrictions.
    A second issue is that the vast majority of the people who are likely to be hired in these “non core” positions are not going to be receiving pensions for a long time post-2014 so those liabilities will have little effect on cash flow for the short-to-medium term.
    The HEA are presumably doing what they are told by DoF who will, in turn, say “We are only obeying orders”. But my guess is that EU/IMF are not that stupid and are not in the business of micro-management. The new government has decided to reverse the previously agreed reduction in the national minimum wage: is that going to be vetoed?

  2. All it needs is three or four lines.
    You must stay within budget.
    You are required to reduce the proportion of money spent on administration and redirect it actual lecturers and researchers, (insert proportion here).
    All actions shall be legal and comply with the Universities act.
    If you can raise some money yourselves, the good luck to you.

    It is fact a document that works against Ireland having a reasonable third level system. For instance, it states that the distribution of posts should be that at 31 December 2010, when quite a few senior people retired under early retirement provisions at the end of previous academic year. They completely ignored the nature of universities and just picked a round date.

  3. A tad off topic but it does seem a bit bizarre that the most oversubscribed UK universities have announced they will be charging the max 9k fees – and lots more will follow. Meanwhile in bust Ireland…..

  4. Let me make shorter for people who want to have a rant without going to the trouble of reading the whole thing. As well as being an assault on the English language, it sets the principle in motion that every hire has to go to a central government committee who will evaluate whether it should be made, taking government strategy into account as a guiding principle. Two words, North Korea.

    “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.”

  5. Why not publish the agreements governing catering and bar staff, or electricians or whatever CIF and its union opposite numbers have signed up to? They are all restrictive, depending on perspective.

    Surely, at bottom the ECF is stating in a nagging niggling fashion, that the tide is out. We are all out of cash and need to throttle back? The universities through years of pumping up the worth of the knowledge economy haggis have authored their own misfortunes. The money was all too easy just like everything else raddled by the Celtic Tiger. Just keep Ahern, Harney, O’Keefee and the rest on side with schmooze and the cash will keep flowing.

    Third level is jammed with public servants in well-paid permanent tenured positions. Surely, life there for most can’t be worse than being unemployed, unable to meet the mortgage, pay the utility bills, feed the kids, etc. If it is worse then perhaps staff should get out and kick the smart economy into high gear. It is just a suggestion. There is an alternative.

  6. @The Alchemist

    You are just flat wrong on this issue. We can have a debate about reducing further the public spending on universities and further reducing academic salaries and we almost certainly will have to. Thats not what’s at issue here.

  7. In fact, this document has no implications for the salary and conditions of existing staff. It also has no real implications for staff that don’t carry out research that involves hiring people. The ones who are most infuriated by this are people who have been generating research income and have been hiring people. But even that is not the real point. People risk their lives for the opportunity to live in democracies. Autonomous universities are an important part of that. Throwing that away with the stroke of a pen is a disgusting act.

  8. Academic staff might consider setting up a register of experts available for paid media employment or non-executive directors of commercial companies which might help achieve economic growth for our country. My memory recalls Loudain Ryan professor of economics at TCD was a non executive director of the Bank of Ireland decades ago.

    If we can achieve economic growth the cuts in the HEA will ease.

  9. @The Alchemist you know perfectly well that Bertie et al had no interest in education and that universities were not the receipt of any bonanza in the Celtic Tiger years, although a few top administrators did manage to divert excessive amounts their way. I refer you to the OECD website which shows that, at constant prices, expenditure on Third level in Ireland increased 17%, one third of the increase in GDP. In the UK expenditure increased by 50%, two and a half times the increase in GDP, this increase facilitated by fees. As I pointed out here previously the number of students increased faster than the real expenditure. Irish universities are among the most efficient in Europe and not some kind of cash sink as you falsely portray, for reasons best known to yourself.

  10. Just noting that the percentage figures I quoted in the previous post are from 2000 to 2007, pretty much bracketing the boom period in Ireland.

  11. @Liam D

    Like I said, a bit off topic – not direcly a reaction to the post. Its just another example of what foreigners are likely to perceive as not giving it a go to raise more revenue – in this case from undergrads.

    On topic, lots of this stuff is always clunky and imposed by people who don’t know enough to get it right.

  12. @ Liam

    “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:”

    Cold you help clarify something?

    Are people who work in third level institutions “public sector workers”? Are you employed by UCD or by the State? What status does UCD and other bodies effected by this have in law?

    @ Grumpy

    If you think the universities should charge fees, how will you avoid further social exclusion at third level?

  13. Gavin:
    Yes , those of us in 3rd level are in the public sector. We are employed by the universities so our position is the same as many other public sector non-civil service employees. The universities pensions funds were absorbed into the public sector a little while back.

    The evidence for the US, UK and yes even Ireland shows that university fees are not a cause of social exclusion. It is attainment: the proximate reason why those from low SES backgrounds are much less likely to go to university is that they get much worse Leaving Certs on average.
    We have a reasonably good system (the Higher Education grant) for dealing with any credit constraints. This would deal with any additional fees.
    So unless we fix the schools, that is address the educational apartheid at primary and secondary level, social exclusion at third level will largely continue as it is. Unfortunately, the chances of that happening is approximately 0: too many vested interests to confront.

  14. I have said many times, that it is striking that none of the big beneficiaries of public funding have come up with proposals to do more for less during this economic emergency.

    Job embargos are notorious for creating anomalies and so what have the universities proposed in respect of working with a reduced budget while maintaining standards?

    Were the universities so well run during the bubble years that there is no fat to cut now?

    Pension deficits, partly resulting from the common practice of providing unfunded pension years to both academic and other staff, of over €600m were not small change to pass over to the State:

    TCD’s amount was €315m.

    http://www.finegael.ie/upload/img843.jpg

  15. Michael h
    You constantly say that, and equally constantly ignore, frankly i think wilfully, the fact that the university economists were first out the gate to call for significant pay cuts. So, get your facts right. Please.

  16. I’d love to know what advice, if any, was tendered by the economic advisor to the minister for finance…

  17. @ Brian Lucey

    I was referring to the body corporates not opinions of individual academics.

    I assume that you have no responsibility for TCD’s overall budget never mind that of a department or faculty?

    So no need for advice on facts.

  18. Michael, there may well be fat in the system. I think the universities are a microcosm of the public sector – and the country generally. The problem is that the ECF as it is being applied is an entirely different matter which does not address any such inefficiencies and two wrongs don’t make a right.
    If I might mix metaphors: if you have too much fat, shooting yourself in the foot is not a cure.

  19. @Liam Delaney
    “Let me make shorter for people who want to have a rant without going to the trouble of reading the whole thing. As well as being an assault on the English language, it sets the principle in motion that every hire has to go to a central government committee who will evaluate whether it should be made, taking government strategy into account as a guiding principle. Two words, North Korea. ”
    Again, I’ll ask who should be responsible for approving the long-term costs of a hire? Someone who wants them for four years? Or the state who will have to pay lifetime salary, increments and pension to them as a result of their CID?

    Of course, it would be different if there wasn’t permanent employment, if redundancy at a time of surplus to requirements was an option. It is not, however.

  20. We’re talking about temporary contracts Yoga, funded by outside sources, not permanent contracts. Once the grant has expired, so does the job.

  21. @ Kevin

    Thanks for the reponse. I take your point about primary and secondary school outcomes. I remain sceptical about fees being part of the solution. Handily the UK, as has been noted, is conducting a very large experiment in the area and we should be able to see what the consequences are.

    Would you, or anyone here,even roughly know what proportion of the turnover of the third level intitutions is from the state, and what from their own activities. Presumably the figures vary from insitution to institution. A link would do if there is such a thing.

  22. This strikes me as typical ‘nimby’ism – economists calling for restraint in public spending in all areas except for university hiring.

    What consistently strikes me about Irish universities is their below average performance in international peer reviews (except perhaps for TCD) and also the complete lack of real competition between them – and on the rare occasions when there is competitive tendering the universities apply for funding in conjunction with each other – so they don’t have to compete with each other !

    I’m all for public service reform – and I think it should start with our highly inefficient third level sector.

  23. @Michael Hennigan
    “Were the universities so well run during the bubble years that there is no fat to cut now?”

    There is always some scope for cuts and of course these have happened since 2008. But in the context of public expenditure generally it is legitimate to question where exactly the additional money went in recent years and where exactly Ireland is spending more money than comparable places? There is little reference to any measure for assessing where the fat was, e.g. a comparison of staffing levels in 2000 and 2008 with reference to service provided. I suspect such an analysis of universities would show a similar number of teaching staff and more administrators. Such an analysis would probably also show less of both than in many comparable systems abroad, this would not be true of other areas funded by public expenditure.

    @Kevin Denny
    “I think the universities are a microcosm of the public sector”
    Universities are not typical of the public sector and a failure to appreciate the differences are aggravating the situation.

  24. The 20% surcharge for pension liabilities must be lodged to a Pensions Control Account kept by each institution, according to the ECF. Then at the end or each year: “Any overall surplus balance remaining in the Pensions Control Account …. must be surrendered to the HEA.”

    What happens to the money when the HEA gets it? Does it go to the Exchequer? We are not told. Is it invested? I doubt it. Remember that most of the contract staff to which this applies will be about 30 years from retirement age, and we seem to have a “tax” imposed on current employment, with no evidence of any proper fund being set up to cover the long-term liability.

    Some year ago UCD attempted to solve issues like this by introducing a Defined Contribution scheme for new fixed-term contract staff. They were stopped from doing do by a combination of unions and civil servants determined not to let their own DB schemes be called into question.

    A final point: the ECF seems to forbid promotions: so no matter how brilliant your research and publication performance, you won’t get any reward. Do the idiots (and I use that word in all seriousness) who dreamt up the ECF have any idea about the consequences of their actions? Do they care?

  25. Another point that people may not be aware of is that when researchers compete successfully for EU funding this not only funds the temporary posts that are filled as a result; it brings in overhead to the universities.

  26. @Kevin O’Rourke
    “We’re talking about temporary contracts Yoga, funded by outside sources, not permanent contracts. Once the grant has expired, so does the job.”
    Properly managed, it does. But what happens after the initial, say, two year grant has expired? Do you exclude that person from a further grant even if they can attract it?

    And when you say “funded by outside sources”, who is the employer? If it is not the state, I don’t see why there should be an issue with the HEA at all, if it is the state, then why wouldn’t they have an interest in who is taken onto the payroll?

    As I say, a way around this would be an agreement on redundancy in the event of a CID and an end to funding. Defined contribution pensions would also have to be part of this to cut off the cost. The costs of redundancy could then be calculated as part of the cost of the contract.

    All of this would require far-reaching changes to employment contracts and conditions, at the very least for new entrants. I don’t see an appetite for this, despite union predilections for pulling the ladder into the balloon.

    I’m not even sure it would be a good idea for the state to be gaming employment law like this, I don’t really have a problem with the state providing jobs for life or decent pensions and terms of employment. I choose to contract because the industry I work in is dispersed, but the uncertainty of it is not for everyone.

  27. People talking about the level of university funding, academic salaries etc., are just missing the point. Not what’s at issue here and to keep repeating this is getting tiresome.

    The Contract of Indefinite Duration issue is a serious issue and one that should be dealt with in a better way as it is creating a lot of problems for everyone in the system. Again though, that is not what this document is about and it doesn’t help on that issue. In fact through further trying to reinforce a “use of spare staff” type nonsense system, it is making this far worse.

    This document is an attempt to solve the relatively minor issue of the pension liability arising from research grant funded staff by imposing full control of all hiring and placing it in the hands of a small committee. It is reasonable, though I haven’t tried to estimate the quantitative implications, for the Department of Finance to insist that pension liabilities are costed into future grant applications. It may even be reasonable for them to insist on some central monitoring that this is happening. I say reasonable in the sense that, whether one agrees with it as a policy or not, one could not charge that such a policy fundamentally alters the nature of universities. What is not reasonable is the idea that a central committee will scrutinise the hires themselves, using such criteria as suitability with regard government strategy. I am speaking here as a citizen and someone who will not be affected by this materially. This is as much a blow to democracy in Ireland as if the government started monitoring what library books people were reading.

  28. @Liam Delaney

    If people are missing the point – then who is at fault?

    Your point is completely lost on me – are you saying a central hiring committee has us on a par with North Korea?

    If you are – then either I’m not taking this issue seriously enough (sorry, but in the great firmament studded with zombie bank debts, housing market implosion and sovereign default this just ain’t on my radar) or you’re slightly losing perspective on where this fits in the wider economic debate.

    It may be important to you – but that doesn’t make it important.

  29. @What Goes Up

    I didn’t say it puts us on a par with North Korea. Given that the only way it seems you can attract any attention to anything in Ireland is to sometimes up the volume I used the words North Korea to encapsulate the undemocratic nature of the scheme.

    The style of argument that says “we are going through a banking crisis therefore we cant discuss other things” is ridiculous. This blog gives daily coverage to the banking crisis.

    If people are missing the point, I am partly at fault for not making it well. They are partly at fault for not reading the document and trying to understand it. Though I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are trying to be constructive having read the document rather than randomly trolling blogs just to annoy people.

  30. @ Liam Delaney

    Liam,

    Just to change tack, €1bn has been provided to support university scientific reseach funding in the past decade and not much has been achieved with it; I know that there’s an argument that it’s crass to look at outputs just in terms of jobs.

    35,000 jobs have been promised by the TCD-UCD Innovation Corridor alliance but there’s little chance of them materialising.

    Recent research from Norway shows that business clusters do little to generate innovation and in the past year, 3 Irish university spinouts (2 from the University of Limerick and 1 from Trinity College) that had potential, were snapped up by American firms.

    Credit is due for example to Prof. Anil Kokaram of Trinity College who sold his firm Green Parrot Pictures to Google/YouTube last week, but such sales of young firms bring very little valued added to Ireland.

    Business clusters not a silver bullet for innovation; International links trump local/ national interactions:

    http://www.finfacts.ie/irishfinancenews/article_1021875.shtml

  31. @Michael Hennigan

    Have you any comments at all about the actual policy as it makes all you are talking about worse not better? I don’t want to start getting into personal acrimony with people but your argument style on this has become increasingly painful to read. Your stance as a critic of government research funding policy is perfectly legitimate but you turn this into a denigration of an entire group and you fail to disengage with your general point to focus on any other important issues. You have talked about the hopeless lecturers you had when you were going to college and I think it is real pity that students have to put up with dreadful lecturers in some places at some times. My own experience in TCD and UCD was not that and, like you and like more of the people here than you probably realise, I was the first person in my family to go to college. I experienced university as an extremely liberating force and this is the first thing I have seen since I have been a student or an academic that looks like it actually destroys them if it is left unchecked. We regularly have debates here about the composition of public spending. The McCarthy report proposed abolishing the HEA and pretty much dismantling the university research apparatuses. I think McCarthy went too far but I wouldn’t label his suggestions as undemocratic. The ECF proposals are, on the other hand, to use Ferdinand Von Prondzynski’s phrase, “Stalinist”.

  32. @Liam Delaney

    Though I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are trying to be constructive having read the document rather than randomly trolling blogs just to annoy people.

    Well, I was trying to be constructive – and make the point that you may need to communicate your concerns more cogently.

    You have no need to give me the benefit of the doubt – your been more than generous in your condescension.

    Count me as a convert to the government argument.

  33. I dont think I needed to convert you.

    But ok let me take your point and put a more detailed post later in the week if nothing further develops. If I convert you back we can all go for pints.

  34. @ Brian Lucey

    “Michael h
    You constantly say that, and equally constantly ignore, frankly i think wilfully, the fact that the university economists were first out the gate to call for significant pay cuts. So, get your facts right. Please.”

    I’ve noticed You, Constantin (who only sort of counts) and in a roundabout, hinty sort of way – Colm McCarthy.

    Karl Wheelan more or less said the same thing a week or so ago but also explained that he wasn’t keen to mention the subject directly.

    I don’t know everything people have written about this, but I would notice more that most. It looks very thin to me. Looks more like heads down time.

    @Gavin

    I think it preferable there are no third level fees. The UK can’t afford that though and Ireland certainly can’t.

  35. Mr/Ms Dearg Doom:having worked in UCD since 1992, I think I have a pretty good idea what it is like and I see many of the same problems as beset the public sector generally. I conjecture that in most countries, the universities have many of the strengths and weakness that prevail in their public sectors.

    Joseph O’Toole: you need to read more carefully as you have completely missed the point of Liam Delaney’s post and the whole issue of the ECF. It’s not about more public spending. Given that these non-Exchequer funded posts will take graduates off the dole, it is about less public spending d’oh.

  36. For me, the problem the ECF causes academics isn’t a funding one. The issue is university autonomy. No one disagrees that universities have their part to play in trimming costs, and I speak from experience that UL has had to trim its costs in recent months, sometimes severely. But we did, and are doing, it. All that needs to be done on the funding front is to reduce the block grant to each university by some quantum, and have that be that.

    The issue of concern for me is autonomy. The HEA centralises decision making for large parts of the university apparatus within itself. This is the same HEA that the McCarthy report recommended closing entirely. The ‘Stalinist’ approach is not desirable, practical or sustainable. And yet there it is, in black and white.

    Universities that take public cash should be accountable, they should be monitored, and their outputs should be scrutinized by the public. But depriving universities of the ability to set its own research and teaching agendas under the guise of cost-cutting and pension liability management just can’t be allowed to happen. The ECF11 document amounts to a wholesale takeover of the university sector by the HEA.

    If we can accept that point, then it’s worth discussing whether other commenters feel the loss of autonomy is indeed a good thing, or not.

    At risk of coming across as too academic, it might be worth quoting Karl Popper on the issue of leadership by bureaucracies. From the Open Society and its Enemies, p. 143 (http://bit.ly/fML8wv):

    “But the secret of intellectual excellence is the spirit of criticism; it is intellectual independence. And this leads to difficulties which must prove insurmountable for any kind of authoritarianism. The authoritarian will in general select those who obey, who believe, who respond to his influence. But in doing so, he is bound to select mediocrities. For he excludes those who revolt, who doubt, who dare to resist his influence. Never can an authority admit that the intellectually courageous, ie those who dare to defy his authority, may be the most valuable type.”

    It’s worth reading the whole passage. I can think of only a handful of commentators (some of whom contribute to this blog) that exercised the kind of criticism of the system Ireland needed during the boom. Would they have done so if their jobs were on the line?

    For me, the ECF take away the freedom of academics to criticize the system. We didn’t have enough of it before. What chance will we have after the ECF?

  37. @Michael H

    “High cognitive, social, and institutional proximity may end up creating a relatively homogenous environment in which new ideas find it difficult to take hold and diffuse.”

    Quoted from the Norwegian study. Of course, in Ireland, we’d do it differently…

    @Liam D

    Do more with less?

    The same nation threw up the HSE, Fas and a host of other inefficient resource consumers. These agencies and the third level sector (why are the Institutes let off the hook? Are there too many? Are their standards adequate?) lie on a continuum of public expenditure. Fas, CIE, and the HSE have had undergone a series of grillings about low level expenditure. Apart from a few fractious outings before the PAC, where a shocking sense of entitlement was put on display, little is known about value for money in the higher education. A year or so ago The Guardian put together a datablog on academic salaries in the UK. The revelation that stuck in my mind was that Oxford with 9,500 academic staff paid less that 250 of them over £100K per annum. During the bubble the whole nation overpaid itself ingloriously. The third level benefited from research funding, benchmarking and generous discretion in employment contracts. It can’t be argued credibly that the universities and their staff should have some kind of derogation from economic changes.

  38. @The Alchemist

    This policy does nothing about pay. It stops people getting research grants from non-exchequer funds. It makes the universities an international joke. People who really care about research and ideas will leave. The policy helps us do nothing other than choke the parts of the system that are generating research funds. And render the system as a whole an undemocratic joke.

  39. Liam
    Dont bother. People clearly are fizated on the idee fixee that its all bout pay, that we are whinging about pay, and its rampant NIMBYism. Let them be so fixated. And then in 5 years wonder why their children are complaining as they realise that they are going to fifth rate universities.

  40. Might as well bother Brian. I will repeat this document does not have any implications for pay. In fact if I were a lazy cynical asshole marking my time I would be delighted with this document as it gets rid of a lot of pesky people who were doing too much work and showing me up and who will now leave the country. If you look at the type of people who are coming most strongly out against it, it should give an indication at least of what this is about. Below is from one of the country’s most productive academics in most reasonable senses of the word, Shane O’Mara. This is the practical end of it and this is in some sense less serious than the wider implications of it.

    “How can the HEA know so little about the sector it purports to be the champion of? The ECF as presented is an absurd and ridiculous document utterly at variance with the meanginful operation of a vibrant third- and fourth level sector, properly connected to the health, wealth and future growth of the economy and nation.

    Should we all now desist from applying for employment-creating and network-generating non-exchequer funding, vital to the sector and the country?”

  41. – The government cannot afford funding universities at current levels. Agreed.
    – Something must be done. Agreed.
    – Government should force cost cuts and/or require more external funding. Agreed.

    Government’s “solution” says nothing about cost cutting and makes it far, far more difficult to win external funding.

    People assume it’s a sensible policy… because costs must be cut.

    The world’s gone mad, Ted.

  42. @ Liam Delaney

    I don’t want to start getting into personal acrimony with people but your argument style on this has become increasingly painful to read.

    Blog posts do not often covey the full picture and you seem like a pessimist to me and while I’m an optimist generally in outlook, I guess that I seem a pessimist to you.

    I do tend to be contrarian because the status quo seems a very crowded place and spin permeates most areas of public policy; the status quo brought us to the current sorry predicament.

    On total R&D spending, I do think that a 3% of GDP target is foolish as was the recommendation last November of ex-Intel chief, Craig Barrett, that we should emulate Israel and aim for a target of 5%.

    The multinational sector will not site significant original research facilities in Ireland and while there should be public funding of university research, it should not be viewed as a potential engine of jobs growth.

    We have more full-time researchers on the public payroll than Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company.

    The focus of applied research should be on the food industry rather than biotechnology.

    There is a growing demand for the type of food we produce but Sweden in the past decade has been a bigger producer of cheese for example than Ireland.

    This maybe painful, but we should seek the truth from facts.

  43. You dont strike me as a pessimist Michael. I guess I would just like to know what you think about ECF2 the policy as this is what the post is about and this is a really serious issue. I already know what your opinions are about research funding and, while I think you go too far, I largely respect your arguments in terms of how you make them and the level to which you inform yourself. But if you think that such arguments mean that the HEA should be given full microcontrol of every single hire and make judgments based on government strategic priorities then I think you are flat wrong. I cannot tell from what you are saying so far whether you think this. I would have guessed you were against such a policy from your previous positions but the fact that you keep raising your objection to researchers in universities per se in this post, a neutral observer would probably conclude you support the policy. Which is it?

  44. @Liam Delaney
    “This policy does nothing about pay. It stops people getting research grants from non-exchequer funds.”
    Well, a large proportion (how large?) is from state bodies. This is roundabout exchequer funding. Again, I will say that the long-term obligations rest on the state. Until obligations no longer rest on the state, there will be a continuing conflict over who gets hired and what happens to ‘surplus’ staff.

    My understanding of Popper has always been that he talks with regard to tenure. As far as I can see, tenure is unaffected by this move. Contract staff will always be limited by what they can say.

    Setting up “Research Co. Ltd.” to receive and disburse funding to contractors on a private sector basis would be one solution. Limited (defined benefit pension, statutory terms etc.). It would mean a two tier research environment, though. Do you really want to go down that path?

    @Brian Lucey
    Way to go…

  45. @yoganmahew

    I am not dismissing your argument about the liabilities incurred by the state when researchers are hired. It is important that a reasonable approach is found to deal with that issue. Let’s all agree on that. This policy does not help that issue and adds a monstrous set of control clauses on top of the botched attempt to do so.

    I also agree that current tenure is not affected but the flow of tenure is. The document makes it such that this committee will actually be able to decide what areas and what lecturers at a specific level are allowed to be hired. The HEA have come out with some nonsense that it is not their intention to use this power in that way but rather they just want to have an oversite role. The document is just not consistent with that.

  46. A large part of this gibbering imbecility is the hea trying to show how important they are. Drooling, gibbering, asinine imbecility i say…and still no comment from the previous minister for finance economic advisor..maybe he took an oath of omertà.I’d LOVE to hear his justification for this but I guess in his case it would be hard to critique a rushed last day decision…

  47. Liam and Hogan,

    Surely the replacement of permanent staff with contract staff, all overseen by a committee of nonspecialist bureaucrats, is an assault on tenure, and not just the flow of it?

  48. Kinsella, your wasting your electrons. As your employed in universities, your automatically a nimby leech in this debate. That’s te view here and it’s wonderful to see the senior academics coming out so forcefully to critique ecf. Legions of them…

  49. @Stephen Kinsella
    Well, that depends on the nature of the research posts, who is funding them and what can be said. People don’t commission research to come to conclusions that are anathema to them.

    It also depends on whether it affects the number of tenured posts and who gets to make appointments to those tenured posts. If it affects either of those, I agree it is very bad. I don’t, however, see any evidence that it is intended to replace permanent staff with contract staff, rather it looks to me like it is an attempt to prevent ‘accidental’ permanent staff. As I say, this has its own problems.

    As regards tenure, it seems to me that some (many?) in that enviable position abuse it by saying nothing interesting, never mind controversial.

    I will repeat again the simple solution to the problem – contract staff do not get the same pensions, tenure, nor terms and conditions and can be made redundant when funding for them is up. Are you (both and others) prepared to accept the implications that would bring?

  50. Hogan: the postdocs I employed, from a grant, when that dried up, what happened? Dontou think they’re sitting popping peeled grapes in their mouth? Lounging around till 65 waiting to drawn the pension? What’s the contract terms of the position whose committee I’m chairing Friday? What, in shirt, makes you think your proposal isn’t in effect? And what dies that say re the need for this babbling foolishness?

  51. @hogan, you’re correct, the accidental tenure problem is a deeper issue that won’t be solved within this debate, but the fact is that contract (and especially research) staff really don’t get the same levels of pension entitlements, etc that permanent faculty get, because once the funding that ‘creates’ the job they are in goes, so do they.

    The issue of terms and conditions is really important. I *want* any post doc that works for me to have the same terms and conditions as me. I don’t want a two+ tiered academic system like they have in the US where tenure and tenure track jobs are as rare as owl’s teeth, while an army of disillusioned adjuncts does most of the teaching and research. I’m not prepared to accept the implications of partitioning the system like that. I’ve seen them, they aren’t pretty.

  52. Big changes have taken place within Universities in the past decade: a huge amount of power and voice has been taken away from academics and grabbed by “senior management”. Some people will say that this was necessary to give the Universities a greater sense of strategic direction and to break up some cosy academic practices and privileges.

    Whatever one thinks about that argument, the managerial takeover has produced a huge increase in administrative staff: a look at the proliferation of programme offices, of bureaucracies such as that of the vice-president for research, etc will confirm this (I speak from my UCD experience). Senior management with (as far as I can see) the active encouragement of the HEA has created a huge and expensive HSE-like administrative monster. So much for employment control!

    It gets worse. In 2009-10 there were significant incentives for early retirement, and naturally quite a large number responded to these incentives. It would seem, from what I have been told on good authority about UCD, that the retirement rate among academic staff was much higher than among other categories. The administrators, so many of whom were recent recruits, were not old enough to avail of early retirement in large numbers. One estimate is that whereas UCD’s total staff numbers declined by about 9% in the 3 years up to end-2010, full-time academic staff numbers decreased by 20% or more.

    The HSE disease was not just the creation of the HEA. University Senior Management has been responsible for it. If we want to reform the system an awful lot of people at the top will have to be replaced.

  53. @Brian Lucey
    You employ them, do you? On what terms and conditions? The grant, where does it come from? (If you’re at liberty to say). How long did you employ them for?

    What happens to the postdocs after you’ve finished with them?

    I’m not trying to catch you out, I’m interested and trying to be constructive. I’ve contracted for various employers for some 17 years in a number of different countries. Various mechanisms have been put in place since CIDs were introduced and even before in an attempt to avoid other employer obligations.

  54. @Stephen Kinsella
    “I’m not prepared to accept the implications of partitioning the system like that. I’ve seen them, they aren’t pretty.”
    I agree with you. From the other side, I’ve seen what such systems produce. That’s not always pretty either.

    In which case, if the employer is going to take a staff member onto the payroll, they should have some input into who they get?

    “but the fact is that contract (and especially research) staff really don’t get the same levels of pension entitlements, etc that permanent faculty get, because once the funding that ‘creates’ the job they are in goes, so do they.”
    My understanding of CIDs is that it doesn’t matter what terms and conditions the contract person is on. If they have four years of back-to-back contracts (summer holidays not counting as a break), they are permanent. They can then demand ‘permanent’ terms and conditions.

  55. Just looked at the HEA website.

    Doesn’t fill one with confidence.

    They haven’t even bothered to change the default Drupal favicon from their site.

    If they can’t even micromanage themselves how can they micromanage the entire third level?

  56. The grant came from private, not irish, sources. and they left Hogan, to australia, where they are going gangbusters. they were here for 2 years, and had they been able to they would have stayed in and worked on.
    What this is doing is trying to solve a problem (pension fund actuarial liabilities) the most interfering way possible to keep HEA in work. And if you and the others cant see quango mission creep then your not as smart as I think you are.
    No comment from Michael H – we assume therefore he has a pox on all of us for not individually creating ten jobs by lunchtime.

  57. “My understanding of CIDs is that it doesn’t matter what terms and conditions the contract person is on. If they have four years of back-to-back contracts (summer holidays not counting as a break), they are permanent. They can then demand ‘permanent’ terms and conditions.”
    nope. anyone can be made redundant, so long as the employer can do it within law. CID or not…. Trust me on this.

  58. @John Sheehan

    You’re absolutely right: an HSE-like administrative monster has been created at UCD and possibly other universities. And it cannot be reigned in. Look at Croke Park: the people doing the “implementing” are the very people who waste money like drunken sailors. You think they’re going to have a plan that opens their own contracts?

    The data I have goes from the imposition of ECF1 in 2008 (and the incentives for early retirement in the subsequent budgets) to March 2010. In that time, total employment at UCD dropped by about 7.7%. Total academic employment dropped by 10.9%. The ratio of non-academic to academic employees there went from 1.312/1 to 1.395/1.

    Across all the universities and other designated HEA colleges the ratio of non-academic to academic staff increased over that same period from 1.224/1 to 1.242/1.

    Who knows what the respective euro figures would be. But management is not going to cut itself. It would rather destroy universities (as the IUA implementation plans make clear) than do that.

  59. @Brian Lucey
    “nope. anyone can be made redundant, so long as the employer can do it within law. CID or not…. Trust me on this.”
    Eh, only if anyone can be made redundant within the organisation. Is there a mechanism for you to be made redundant? If not, there is no case for making a newly permanent employee redundant.

    I agree that it is a matter of policy, but so far, the policy of tenure has been to not make permanent academic employees of universities redundant. As I say, you may want to be a bit careful about what you are complaining about.

    My position on Quangos is well known (I hope). Close them all down. Any functions that are required or any staff that are required should be part of the respective departments that nominally control the quango. So instead of the HEA, you’d have the Dept. of Education and Skills directly approving. Happy now? Thought not…

    In the specific case you outline, I don’t see any way that you’d have to go to the HEA. The private sources providing the grant set up a limited company which contracts with self-employed researchers to do the work. You operate as a consultant on the project. Simples… why not?

  60. @Ernie Ball
    Absolutely agree with you. With regard to the function under discussion in this thread, though, it’s not because it’s a quango that the HEA has this function, it’s because it’s a function of the state, no?

  61. @hogan
    this isnt meant to be sarky…but do you think that if it really WAS that simple it wouldnt have been done so already? Really?

  62. @Brian Lucey
    “do you think that if it really WAS that simple it wouldnt have been done so already?”
    I don’t know. If I was structuring a project to get around headcount restrictions with customer funding, that is what I would do. Furthermore, I wouldn’t tell my senior management about it in case it upset them.

    I don’t see how it is not that simple? The funding ‘owns’ the company so what’s not to like from their point of view. The postdocs want the work. You want your project done.

  63. This may or may not be a power-grab by the HEA in response to the existential threat posed to it by the McCarthy report. If I had to guess, I would say its not but rather a botched attempt to implement something imposed on them by the Department of Finance who do not care about the difference between universities and any other sector and are not willing to invest any effort in learning this difference. I am worried that this post and other public reaction might make things worse by making it harder for the HEA and Finance to back down once they realise how damaging this document might be. The IUA line seems to be to do things quietly behind close doors. And a few people have suggested to me that this will go away on its own in the next couple of weeks. Thoughts on this aspect welcome.

  64. @Liam Delaney
    “Thoughts on this aspect welcome.”
    Without knowing the internal politics…

    As Brian Lucey is pointing out, the 3(c) scope is the most troublesome; I’ve been trying to point out it is also unrealistic and easily (?!) circumvented. I’ve seen similar attempts in the private sector by parts of middle management to ‘force’ staff onto a project where they do not meet the requirements of the customer, justified by the “well, we can’t just employ anybody”. The end-game has usually been a pro-forma contract and a set of rules with a rubber-stamp of the process at the end. Rather than fight head-on, I’d suggest adopting this approach with the HEA for 3(c).

    No idea what to do with the other two scopes!

  65. @hogan

    I think there is almost consensus that they will have to row back on 3(c) and mainly because it goes against government strategy rather than its logical absurdity.

    If you look at 3, take 3(b). I guess part of what is killing me about this document is the mindset that says there are now only three types of hires to universities and that the only category that might be eligible for state funding are those “in pursuance of the SSTI/Smart Economy agenda”. In practice, those documents are so badly written so as to make anything conceivably fall under them but, in principle, the idea that such a condition would be placed is crazy. Its just a totally outrageous way of narrowing a definition of what university research is about. For 3(b) it is practically academic, pardon the pun, as there is very little state funding for independent researchers but think of IRCHSS postdocs for example. Either scrap them or stop with this nonsense that someone doing a history of Celtic poetry needs to write why they are contributing to the SSTI.

    “(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;”

  66. “The IUA line seems to be to do things quietly behind close doors. ”
    they would say that wouldnt they…And if it fails they can say “well look, we tried” …
    To which I say tosh piffle and balderdash. lets drag Finance out into the open and see who/when/why wrote this pile of dung and then let the public decide if they are worth their salaries which are inflated to levels beyond the wildest dreams of academia…

  67. hoganmahew’s “I don’t see how it is not that simple?”

    I don’t speak for Brian and I’m sure he can give a more substantive answer, but I can see problems just thinking about it for two seconds. Suppose Brian wants to hire someone for two years as a postdoc in TCD, funded entirely by the EU, but because of this silly policy he has to do it through “Brian Lucey Ltd.” Practically speaking, how am the postdoc going to get office space/keys/computers/library access in TCD?

    Maybe more importantly, TCD may reasonably object since they are no longer the institution officially associated with the project. TCD are paying Brian for his time and publications. TCD, not Brian Lucey Ltd., should claim the credit for his work.

  68. Enda H
    Yep, and lots more. Lots lots more. Also, many EU grants must go to a university (not a SME research entity), how will these postdocs or whatever access the insittutional bulk purchases, are they covered by IP/Insurance etc etc. Simples eh Hogan?

  69. I hear you Brian but the amount of senior people who have spoken publicly about this is actually reasonably small if you omit people who are running for various offices and people who are leaving various offices. I would like to hear what the current university heads think about this directy. The IUA have said that the Presidents are deeply concerned and are expressing that concern and I’m sure each university has some form of internal communications about this. But we are not in a consultation phase. This has been signed. Personally, I dont share your desire to have people from the various offices “named and shamed”. I dont think it would cause them any shame for a start to be named and a few of them have probably already made the calculation that academics are not very popular among the punters and this is probably the least of their worries in terms of backlash. I would like to see institutional statements from the universities written ‘from the heart’ talking about the wider implications of this, not just the fact that it might lose some research money, which is important but not the most important aspect of this.

  70. @Brian Lucey and Enda H
    By “private”, you mean EU? I thought you meant, like, private…

    It would not be Brian Lucey Ltd. It would be “EU TCD Ltd.” The funder contracts directly the researchers. TCD get paid the normal amount that they would get paid for allowing access to a visiting research fellow from the private sector.

    You want to eat the cake aswell?

    “how will these postdocs or whatever access the insittutional bulk purchases, are they covered by IP/Insurance etc etc. Simples eh Hogan?”
    You are making the HEA’s case very effectively for them. All these things have costs to the university sector as a whole, but because you’ve a grant outside for a couple of postdocs, you don’t have to pay those fixed costs?

    Welcome to the world of small business.

  71. I should clarify (and I am coming to the end of my input on this for now) that I am very grateful that the various seanad and provost candidates who have commented on this have done so and my comment above wasn’t intended as a dig but might have sounded like one. I would like to see during the week what current university heads think about this and it wouldn’t hurt for some more prominent academics to give their thoughts on this. Doing things discretely behind doors clearly has important limits.

  72. “Welcome to the world of small business.”
    O, like the one I grew up in and the one that many of my friends and family work in?
    Meanwhile, back in the globally traded intellectual game, where TCD alone has a turnover of 350m PA its a tiny tad different to an SME…just a tiny tad. But, sure one size fits all and what works for a SME works for a global brand. Doesnt it? Sure it does…..

  73. @Brian Lucey
    What I meant was that you are being treated by the HEA like a small business. If you want access to the university and all the accoutrements, you’ve got to go through the organisational hoops. Given that you know so much about small business, you’ll understand immediately how this feels.

    If the chip on your shoulder was any larger…

  74. I echo Stephen Kinsella’s comment that someone needs to talk about university autonomy, because that is the issue here. We have gotten sidetracked into issues about pay (which has nothing at all to do with this document but is a legitimate issue in its own right) and CID eligibility (which has something more to do with this but can easily be separated and which is not helped at all by this document).

    There are three things this week that come together somewhat. We have the ECF, the head of the HEA’s reported comments on humanities and the document pointed out by Karl Whelan, which includes a suggestion that senior folks engage with the media to get them to tell more good news stories. The first is the most serious, and we need to be careful to keep the other two in context, but all three together in such a space of time should make people start to keep an eye on those who think democratic institutions such as media, arts and universities should be brought under the domain of state economic policy.

  75. PS if you want to play the numbers game, the company I currently contract to had operating revenues of 1.7 bn USD in 2009; a previous company had 8 bn STG operating revenues in 2010. Losses can be in the billions too, so turnover figures really don’t mean very much.

  76. Ive just deleted three comments, one by commentor “Eoin” telling me to calm down and two by me telling him to get stuffed. Really am trying my best to keep a thread on this important issue going. Feel free to post your comment again but I’m not sure how to both keep a thread going and bat away insults at the same time.

  77. Calmly done there Liam 🙂

    There are, I believe, similar exercises going on/have gone on in both primary and secondary schools. While, for example, primary school boards are the employers of teachers when it comes to being sued for child abuse, it is the Dept. of Edu that is the employer when it comes to setting wages, terms and conditions, and deciding who gets employed.

    I know, from talking to school board members, that the ludicrous situation has arisen in schools where they have surplus staff in one subject teaching in another subject (a secondary school art teacher teaching junior cert maths…).

    Getting rid of or attacking the HEA is probably scratching the scab of the problem. If the policy exists in other levels of education, then it is likely Dept. policy. No?

  78. @hoganmahew

    I have been calm. Has been very hard to get a serious discussion on this and I have obviously failed on this round but tomorrow is another day as they say.

  79. Jaysus lads,83 comments and not a mention of bondholders, haircuts,sovereign defaults and all that. Shurely shome mishtake?

  80. @ Liam

    you genuinely don’t agree with the ECF. I accept, and applaud, that. My point is that, to non-education sector people like myself, it seems like you are both freaking out excessively over this issue as well as over-dramatising the problem. Saying that i’m foolish or irrelevant for not agreeing with your self-admitted over-pejorative terminology is, well, foolish in the extreme in my view. We, the taxpayer, spend, rightfully, an awful lot of money on our education, so its not foolish to try and use these fund in a better manner, which i assume is the point of this document and policy.

    As i said, the policy itself may be wrong, but to question the concepts and motives behind it won’t help your genuine attempts to redress any mistakes that it might make. It just smacks of yet more insiders being scared of change. One of your, and the entire thread’s, opening “comments”, suggested that people are coming on here ranting about the issue without reading the document or understanding the underling issues. It reads like incredible arrogance, and ditto some of your responses to the ridiculously sensible Michael Hennigan. I actually agree with the core criticism of ECF (“Universities should be able to manage themselves as they see fit”), its your argument style/ that i think is ridiculous. Comparing it to communist dictatorships (note the plural) and saying we’ll have “fifth rate universities” seems a tad excessive to the bog-standard funder of it all.

  81. @Eoin

    If you read carefully my interaction with Michael you will see that I have been assidious in showing due respect as he is a good commentator and someone who informs his opinions. I have been urging him to give his opinion on the policy rather than his general opinion on research funding. This is not an unfair thing to do. Also, I have been trying to rescue the thread from a general discussion on academic pay and conditions, which are separate though important. I really think you insult me by accusing me of arrogance. I really am not an arrogant person and am just trying to engage properly with people who post here and get a debate on the topic rather than having a bunch of us posting general thoughts.

    Also, you need to separate out your criticisms of me and your problems with Brian. Its not fair to lump two people together and treat their contribution as one. Its disrespectful. I agree largely with Brian on this issue but I do not share his view on the motives the HEA have for this nor would I want to have to sign up to every post he (or indeed anyone else) makes on twitter.

  82. @ Liam
    I think the whole situation needs to be looked at: primary, secondary and third level.
    If there was an agreement about where we all will end up post default/ payback, and rather than playing games in between here and there we accept the terms of being ‘there’ now and work within those budgets.

    Everyone seems to be divided and fighting on all fronts over inches and feet, ignoring the possible more long term position that is yards behind us.

    Govt doesnt seem to be leading too well in this, and seems happier to play with individuals or sectors over said feet and inches…

  83. @Eoin
    In the spirit of basic fairness, can I ask you to accept that I do not at all believe it is foolish to try to use funds in a better manner and that nothing I have ever said could lead anyone to that conclusion, other than if they misinterpreted my attempts to keep a thread on track. Your argument basically boils down to ‘they wouldn’t do it unless there was a good reason’ and surely you recognise the limits of an argument like that.

    “We, the taxpayer, spend, rightfully, an awful lot of money on our education, so its not foolish to try and use these fund in a better manner, which i assume is the point of this document and policy.”

  84. I don’t understand the institutional autonomy argument. How can an institution be autonomous when most of its funding comes from the public purse?

    Have the universities (and Institutes) sorted out conflict of interest issues to ensure the public interest isn’t compromised? Isn’t something like that where the locus of intellectual autonomy lies?

    And within a tiny country beset and bedeviled with a conservative group-think mentality, isn’t clamour for the protection of institutional autonomy a bit pantomimeish and fake?

    I’ll be happy to accept some of the arguments when I can drill down into faculty and departmental accounts and find out where the money goes on salaries, travel and entertainment and the like. Surprised myself that the C&AG hasn’t got a can opener to some of the colleges by now.

  85. hogan,
    I have generally thought of you as a knowledgeable commenter particularly on property related issues but this is something you are totally out of your depth. You have no frickin’ idea how mind-numbingly hard to even understand the rules and regulations governing a hire. And the problem is not just Irish universities it is also external funders who will often only give money to a university to hire someone to do the research. Your “TCD EU Ltd.” thing simply is not possible. The mind-numbing level of detail – and frankly idiocy – behind a lot of the hiring process is horrible and teh ECF promises to add an extra layer of bureaucracy on top. As an example, let me give you a link to the Marie Curie International actions page. Read a few of the documents linked there to give you a flavour of the hoops academics are required to jump through for funding. http://cordis.europa.eu/mariecurie-actions/eif/manage.htm

    BTW, a regards the pension issue, since the FTWA came into effect all externally funded positions have 20% of gross salary deducted by the university to fund future pension obligations. Now most universities and frankly most externally funded post-docs would prefer to keep that money but this money is going into the black hole that it the Irish government finances and if you think any of these researchers are going to see a fraction of the money that is being promised to them in pension, I have a bridge to sell you.
    It is very easy for people from the outside to criticise. Yes I’m talking to you Michael H. But if you were on the inside, most of you would hold your hands up very quickly.

    A quick illustration is how the money from an external source is broken down. Let’s assume for example that a post doc brings in a Marie Curie grant of 80K p.a. All of this comes from the EU so Irish exchequer pays zero. About 10% goes to the university account as overheads – to pay for desk space, electricity, library access etc. – generally the university makes money off this. 2.5-3K is audit and management cost which again the university gets to pay for their accounting/payroll. Again univ. comes out ahead. Of the rest, 20% goes into the black hole of the university pension account. Then some more goes into purchasing equipment such as computers – no that was not part of overheads! A further 10.75% is taken as PRSI and then a further 5% for “social benefits” – usually to compensate for the rare researcher who goes on maternity leave and needs to be paid the maternity benefit or falls ill or has an accident etc. etc. So the researcher ends up with a bit under 50K as their gross pay on which they pay the pension levy – yes this is on top of the 20% that is already being deducted plus the USC and income tax. So in the end, the researcher gets about 35K net with the rest going to the exchequer. Now you are trying to tell me it is a good idea to put roadblocks in this process which enriches the exchequer by about 50% of the grant that comes in from the EU?

  86. It seems to me the vice you’re in is this bit:

    “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.”

    You could always try calling their bluff.

    Also, Prof Lucey referred above to TCD’s turnover being 350m. I think it would be useful to be able to articulate what proportion of the investment in education is coming from the state (the taxpayer), and how much from other sources. If the piper-payer calls the tune, then it’s well to know who is doing the paying. The ECF looks to be assuming 100% control of staffing issues for what % of the income?

    Other will know better, but the problem about board versus funder legal issues, outlined by hoganmahew above, I have heard called “Shadow Direction”. This comes into play when a party putting lots of money into a company, attempts to dictate issues that are responsibility of the Board, on the understanding that unless the Board does at its told the money will no longer be forthcoming. This can lead to legal action.

  87. Dumb observation probably but thereis a way around this: incorporate yourselves and be “contracted” as opposed to employed by the govt.
    There is no need to be a public sector employee. Become a corporation. They win by not having to pay your pension – you win by paying corporation tax and not being subject to employment ceilings. Everybodys happy.

  88. @ Liam

    you called MH’s comments “tiresome”. No offence, but thats pretty insulting language.

    Your criticism about me linking your comments with others on the overall ECF issue is a fair one, but it also helps to, possibly, explain why there are some skepticism about your complaints when viewed at the overall level of the argument (ie ‘undemocratic North Korean-style policies that Stalin would be proud of and that Lenihan has deliberately enacted to destroy 3rd Level institutions’ – i’m only midly paraphrasing).

    Calling the ECF “stupid” rather than “undemocratic” would probably be a better way to tackle this issue. I don’t think you are being arrogant, i simply think that that’s how it reads. Dismissing my criticisms of your argument style as “foolish” probably doesn’t help you either on that score. As i said above, i assume at some level this policy has been created for a good, theoretical, reason, and that it is not without precedent in other countries?

  89. Oh and forgot to add – one of things the ECF does is say that you can;t hire that post-doc at 35K because the if the post-doc scale starts at 31K you have to hire him at 31K. And the rest of the money – well that has to go back to the EU along with all the %age overheads on it. Can you not see how asinine this policy is?

  90. @Eoin:
    As i said above, i assume at some level this policy has been created for a good, theoretical, reason, and that it is not without precedent in other countries?

    There we go again, making assumptions without any evidence. If you assume this, show me your evidence. If you cannot, pour yourself a tall, cold glass of STFU.

  91. @ Brian L

    “How would you fund 3/4 level education?”

    Basic government “core” subsidy topped up by government backed student loans or deferred taxation. Getting corporates involved (ie encouraging one-off payments to help pay down student loans, or at least directlly linking pay to education level although that has obvious flaws as well) is also a decent idea in my view given that they ultimately yield lots of the benefits of third-level education.

  92. I didn’t call his comments tiresome. I called the general process of having to bring the thread back tiresome and it is tough to keep this on track. As for your second paragraph, I have not mentioned Brian Lenihan. Again, you are conflating me with someone else. Putting together a parody of my views and putting them in scare quotes is just unfair. Feel free to keep on and I wont delete your comments but I dont understand the points you are making to be honest.

    If MH feels I have insulted him, please send me an email as this genuinely was not my intention.

  93. @ Garo

    you saw the question mark at the end of my, eh, question, right? Are you saying that is has not been created for a good reason or without some precedent somewhere? Genuine question by the way (again, note the question mark…). Pour yourself a pint glass while you’re there.

  94. @Eoin

    The main reason it has been created (the second version) is to minimise state exposure to pension liabilities arising from research contract staff. This has already been discussed. This is a reasonable problem for policy makers to think about. The argument is that the mechanism for dealing with this incorporates controls on academic hiring that overstep dealing with this problem substantially, including the imposition of micro-hiring approval processes that would involve a small central state committee making detailed specific judgments on individual hires across the sector using government strategy partly as a guide to the suitability of the hire, regardless of the funding source. I stand by my assertion that this is a threat to a key democratic insitution, namely the autonomy of universities as well as adding a lot of complexity and uncertainty to an already complex and uncertain process.

  95. @ Gavin

    “leveraged philanthropic funding”? I smell a new product offering for the morning meeting tomorrow…

    However, i think thats more like a 20-year issue in this country, not a 5-year one. It’ll require a huge mindset change. Although does anyone have figures for how much money we send abroad to aid organisations per annum (ie that could be re-focused domestically)? Philanthropic funding would make universities incredibly accountable to their funders, so it would obviously be a very good thing,

  96. Yes, and philantrophic donors are going to love the proviso we are going to have to put into funding applications from now on basically saying we can’t guarantee that we can hire anyone to work on the projects if the grant application is succesful and that this is ultimately the concern of a small state committee who may decide that the need for the hire is not consistent with the goals of the Smart Economy, and even if it is that they think that we should hire someone totally unsuitable who happens to be in one of the other institutions rather than going on the market.

  97. @ Liam

    well, if you can fund yourself externally, obviously you get a lot more freedom to hire n fire as you please…

  98. Eoin. The whole point of this thread has been precisely that this document removes freedom to hire (freedom to fire is a separate issue).

    In the document 3(c) refer to the following i.e. the type of people that would generally be hired under philantrophic and EU grants:

    (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.

    Now, below is how the policy treats this class of hire. At least give me your opinion as to whether this is a good idea or not.

    “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.”

  99. As a regular reader (but not commentator) on this blog, this comment thread in particular has encouraged me to speak out (so well done, everybody).

    I have a reasonable number of pre- and post-doctorate friends in universities in Ireland (mainly various research departments in science around TCD). I don’t feel very much like a vested interest, but I’ve heard quite a bit about research/funding/staffing/etc. over the years. We haven’t really discussed #ECF11, they didn’t seem that aware of it yet (as of a week ago). Most seem to have external funding.

    Short summary from my point of view: the area that people are arguing over is people on short-term contracts with unstable funding sources, and yet these kinds of people are very important to most research groups. And people want to add another hurdle for them to get funding?

    Either the HEA provides a rubber stamp, in which case there is no need for it, or it will exercise its veto, in this case any grant needs yet another group to approve. Some people here think the rhetoric is overblown, but I don’t think so. We don’t know yet how the HEA will apply this power, but the lever is potentially harmful to the continued hiring of researchers in universities.

    And all this for supposed liabilities that must seem laughable to people who just hope for another year of funding, not a permanent pensionable job until 65?

    The document doesn’t pass the smell test, to me.

    The document should just specify parameters for what funding the government is willing to provide, and limitations on future financial exposure that the university should adhere to. Not to mention that if a university has to make changes to its operations, there reasonably has to be a transition period.

    @Bond: “if you can fund yourself externally, obviously you get a lot more freedom…”
    Eh… I think you must have commented on the wrong thread 😀

  100. oh dear oh dear…..OK, we are now close to an IE top ten comment list and to be honest it would seem to me that at best half a dozen are meaningful, constructive, on thread and helpful contributions.

    There is again a problem with understanding what we do for a living (in that part of the job called research) clearly, and we are even seeing some suggestion in this thread about funders only funding stuff they know the answer to…lets boils this down again (@garo nailed elements of this before)…

    1. I go out and compete with all of the other academics in my field for a major grant (FYI 70% of the funding received at the Institute I direct is peer reviewed, EU or US or Foundation funding). Many grants have 95% rejection rates – getting this is really tough.

    2. We hire pre or postdoctoral researchers (or sometimes the funding comes with the person like a Marie Curie Fellowship). The funder gives the money, the University take its costs, the staff hired or the Fellow pays his or her USC, pension levy, direct taxes etc, and as the employer I pay 20.75% contribution to a pension (that in my experience the recruit rarely wants, or even knows about so yes @johnsheehan where is all that money gone!). The Exchequer is covered – in fact it is well up on the deal.

    3. We get on with the work, we publish the research, the contracts come to an end and the person moves on (again at the Institute we would see as many departing as arriving in any year).

    The ECF will bring this to a halt….and at stage 1. The risk of competing, getting and having to turn the grant down is too big.

    I think there is little more to it than this.

    I can see NO cost-benefit model on the planet that could make sense of this (to boil it down to nothing other than Euros, and valuing the output at zero).

    For what it is worth – and speaking for my Institute, and perhaps somewhat from my UCD experience – the CID issue is a red herring. Terrible HR advice – in my opinion – led to CIDs. They are not the norm. There is a stock of CID folks in roles predominantly in administration/technician roles, although sometimes in academic roles. The flow into CID has been largely, legitimately and legally dealt with through making me (as the defacto employer) define more coherently the objective grounds for a fixed term contract. This is no longer just about counting the number of contracts in a defined time period. It is more involved than this.

    And again, to repeat, fixed term contract do end and people move on – right now our alumnus are in mainstream tenured academic posts the world over, including at Professorial level – and our research assistants are now sitting in PhD programmes again all over the globe. That is the industry of a university.

    And no, I can find no example of an ECF anywhere.

    Some final thoughts:

    I hate the backroom deal stuff. That will lead to an ECF3 which actually has the Universities as a stakeholder and then game-set-match. As Liam already noted the University Presidents – I hope my own and TCDs in particular – need to show leadership and even radical thinking on solutions here. I no longer really care about sectoral responses.

    I also think that with notable distinctions the academic community have been pretty silent. I believe economists in particular have a role here – this is just a plainly dumb microeconomic policy decision so lets say that, leaving aside any of the wider ‘academia’ arguments. This is NOT going to make life easier – this IS a direct move that will change what it is we do and how the rest of the world see us. But above all else it makes no economic sense.

    Finally, if the pension issue is a red herring too what is the problem. Might it be that this is a more palatable way to cut research funding – i.e. kill demand instead of supply. Well then you really are killing the patient to cure the disease.

  101. @ Liam

    i dont think its, on the face of it, a good policy, though if you read above i never tried to make out that it was, i was more concerned with the shape of your argument. Although the concept in and of itself is not “bad”, its the enactment of it where the problems will probably arise.

    I assume at the moment the vast majority of Irish university funding/turnover comes from the State? Getting more external sources into that equation will give you more say over how you run them. While you claim that this document will endanger a “key democratic institution”, i see it as a democratically elected government deciding how it wants its taxpayers money spent, so forgive me if i, and the general Joe Taxpayer, do not seem as worried by it as you are. Shaping the argument into “its counterproductive” rather than “its communist” will probably get a better hearing.

  102. Ok Eoin, I definitely agree with you that we should raise more money in the universities and this policy hurts that so yes advancing a “its counterproductive” argument is what a lot of my colleagues are doing. I will say again the mechanism it assigns removes university autonomy to such an extent that I stand behind my claim that its undemocratic. I will accept that I am more sensitive to this than others. In fact, the nonreaction of some of my colleagues is such that I wonder whether the HEA is right in taking away autonomy from them. You get the administration you deserve in the end.

  103. @ Liam

    you may not be able to answer this, but where do university staff stand, generally, on the issue of 3rd level fees? Or is there a fairly even split?

  104. Below is a statement from Minister Quinn’s website dated from June 4 2010, when he was in opposition, referring to the first (and bad enough though less onerous) Employment Control Framework.

    “Ireland’s Higher Education Strategy Lies in Tatters
    A report in this week’s Irish Times that universities will have to face further cuts in their budgets is disappointing but unsurprising. The government’s higher education strategy is in complete disarray because of the massive economic crisis Ireland is currently experiencing.

    Funding has been repeatedly yet the number of students is still growing, particularly as high unemployment is driving the demand for upskilling and re-training.

    The government have decided to either cap numbers attending third level or to allow our universities to decline in their quality of teaching.

    Neither choice is ideal. Fianna Fail and the Green Party have inflicted serious damage on our higher education system by destroying the public finances.

    Re-introducing third level fees is not a feasible option because they already exist in the form of the registration charge. Any revenues raised by higher fees will not be spent on higher education.

    The National Skills Strategy calls for 72% of Leaving Cert Students to go on to third level by 2020. This is a welcome target but ring-fenced funding for education is required if the government wishes to meet this target. I suspect the government has already abandoned its commitment to a knowledge economy.

    The Employment Control Framework has led to serious shortages of teaching staff in many Departments and universities have not been given the flexibility to replace staff. In some colleges, there are subjects that are no longer taught as they have lost all their teaching staff through retirement.

    This Framework needs to be reviewed by the Minister for Education and Skills so as to allow university management allocate resources as they see fit.”

  105. Liam/Stephen/Brian

    Academic self-government is a great privilege. With it comes a great duty, namely to self-govern.

    The universities have failed that duty. Although the crisis in the public finances has been apparent for a while now, the universities have not put forward a plan for cutting costs. Were people removed from the payroll for non-performance? Were courses stopped because of duplication and low attendance? Were departments closed because they’re useless? If so, this was done very quietly.

    Instead, universities kept claiming, without any supporting evidence, that they’re special and crucial for economic growth. In the meantime, the Comptroller and Auditor General revealed scandals over pay and accounts. It is therefore no surprise that there was a hard-handed intervention from the outside.

    It is a clumsy intervention for sure, but it reveals another shortcoming. People like to complain about the lack of quality in the civil service and that it should work much more closely with the universities. It should but it didn’t. The universities do not have an effective program of educating their regulator. Is that solely the fault of the regulator?

  106. I take it Richard that you approve the proposed changes at keele then? What use after all IS a school of philosophy? No, smart green nanobots ruke

  107. @ Richard Tol

    Welcome back Richard!

    I would add that while I understand the frustrations of Colm and Liam in respect of their research funding which is coincident with a big flow of public funds to the scientific research sector with little apparent likelihood of meeting the goals of policymakers.

    The university executives have been cheerleaders for research public funding and at some point, the penny will drop that if ETH Zurich, where Albert Einstein studied, could only create 918 direct jobs from spin-outs in a decade, why would Irish universities do better?

    There are also issues where academics put pressure on Ph.D students to research in an area where they may have a commercial interest.

    Someone else referred to ‘conflict of interest’ – – an issue that is rarely taken seriously in Ireland.

    A US report cites back-door commercialization where one research team found that almost 38% of the more than 5,800 patents in their sample were not assigned solely to the university, even though it was a term of employment.

  108. That test was revealing.

    @Brian
    Philosophy is very useful, particularly moral philosophy.

    Philosophy at Keele, however, is too small to be viable — so small indeed that the RAE did not bother assessing it. After closing Keele, there’ll be plenty of philosophy left at UK universities. Do you really need one philosophy deparment per 1.5 mln people?

  109. Michael H
    You still elide the question Liam asked you.Could you g through the ECF and comment on it’s issues, and let’s all allow that you have useful comments on commercialisation.

  110. Richard – your comments are way off. Not even the people who drafted ECF2 drafted it for the reasons you outline. To the extent that things like university president allowances etc., were an issue, that was already covered under existing agreements. You have taken the opportunity to have a cheap rant without bothering to understand the issue at stake. The universities would not be allowed remove people from the payroll for underperformance under this framework – quite the opposite. It doesn’t create any additional solutions to the problem you are talking about.

  111. Liam D “Doing things discretely behind doors clearly has important limits.”
    And IMHO we have reached and exceeded those limits. Time to become more vocal. For sure the IUA won’t
    Colm H
    Yes. There’s been too much homogenisation at a sectoral level. Thankfully TCD has a clear choice in the proposed approaches of the leading provost contenders
    Richard T
    What were you testing!
    On keele. Rae aside did they provide useful grounding in philosophy for the keele studens? As to numbers: I don’t do dirigism so have no clue the optimal dose of philosophers per capita. Iceland, 300k people, has a dept
    Of philosophy

  112. Turning this into a debate about philosophy at Keele is ridiculous. ECF2 does not have anything to say about making programmes across the university more efficient, more responsive to demand or whatever. If this was indeed a heavy-handed intervention to make universities more efficient then it would at least have some rationale. It just isn’t. Richard might like to believe it is to justify him having a satisfying rant but it has nothing got to do with this whatsoever except in an extremely pointless and roundabout sense.

  113. @Liam
    If the universities do not govern themselves and if they do not properly engage with their regulator, then they should not be surprised (and indeed, not complain) if the regulator intervenes in a silly way.

    I agree that ECF2 is a bad way to run a university system. Hamburg U has been under a similar regime for a long time, and the results are not pretty.

    That said, ECF2 is a symptom only. I’m interested in causes.

  114. Ok Richard: define “properly engage with” and whom? Dept finance (who constructed and issued this), HEA, a
    Powerhungry quango, or DES? Whom, how…?

  115. “I agree that ECF2 is a bad way to run a university system. Hamburg U has been under a similar regime for a long time, and the results are not pretty.”

    I agree with this Richard. The logic of the rest of your post is like a weird theory of second-best, which says that in the presence of imperfections, regulators should do all manner of things to make things even worse. This is not to dismiss you or anyone’s elses points about problems in the universities but the ECF2 kills the things that are actually good without solving any of these problems.

    You should remember Richard that this document was drafted by the Department of Finance mostly to deal with the issue of contract researcher pension liabilities and while it seems to have the support of the HEA perhaps because they are annoyed with the sector, it does not speak to or solve any of the problems you are talking about. You have posting priviledges on this blog so you are free to make a post about the lack of efficiency in Irish universities.

  116. @Brian
    Does TCD offer courses to staff of HEA and Dept Edu? Do they attend seminars? Did you give them a tour through your institute? Did you host their staff on sabbatical? Did you detach your staff there?

  117. @Garo
    “you are totally out of your depth. You have no frickin’ idea how mind-numbingly hard to even understand the rules and regulations governing a hire.”
    No, you don’t understand that the same mind-numbingness, irrationality, poor decision making, odious oversight etc. exists in every company that is experiencing financial stress. As both a contractor and a project manager I’ve been on the receiving end of it more than once. The Irish state is, I believe we can fairly say, experiencing financial stress.

    You are acting like this is a new and unique imposition. It is not. It may be new for tertiary education, but it was the norm for most of the ‘eighties and ‘nineties in most companies. Count yourselves lucky that you haven’t been given a panel of approved universities that you can recruit short-term from… only graduates of those universities are to be considered.

    I agree with all comments that say that this is a poor way to run a university, but there you go. The piper is no longer choosing the tune. By the way, I don’t see that you can call EU money private. Ireland is, I believe, a net contributor to the exchequer?

    WRT having to stick to pay grades, again it goes back to terms and conditions. Either they are the same or they are not. If they are not, you can’t just vary pay up and expect other conditions to stay the same. You also can’t expect to change conditions for contractors and not have them bleed into permanent staff. I’ve seen that one happen in a number of companies too…

  118. Richard, as the saying goes, on the assumption that neither of us are stupid then one of us is really missing something about the other’s point of view. Have a good day!

  119. @ Eoin Bond and others

    “However, i think thats more like a 20-year issue in this country, not a 5-year one. It’ll require a huge mindset change.”

    That is sort of my point. There is a useful quote somewhere that anything worthwhile takes 30 years.

    The problem seems to be from the 3rd/4th level POV that they have become massively reliant on a single source of funding – though no figures offered. This leaves them open to dictation from that source.

    The particular ECF issues have been well argued above – though not to the point of getting a plan together about it, but maybe this is not the forum for that.

    The longer issue is how the 3rd level institutes can attain more balanced multi-polar sources, so as to improve their autonomy.

    I know that TCD has the Trinity Trust, and to judge by the jolly magazines I get periodically attempts are being made to fundraise from graduates. But if you look at the USA, I bet even the Trust is tiny compared to similar institutions.

    I would think this because: (a) The USA has a much more savage and dedicated approach with an extremely strong Alma Mater ethos, and (b) The tax laws are that bit different (I would have to go away and look this up properly).

    I would think that the new government, particularly in its FG guise, would be open to the idea of helping 3rd level institutions raise substantial additional sources of funding within and without the state through supporting the development of a new philanthropic mechanism for the sector. I know this is happening in other sectors, and perhaps it is happening here. Prof Lucey puts the annual tab for TCD at 350m – a smaller number than I was expecting.

    A side bar, is that (whilst everything is changed utterly), FG and Lab governments tend to be more vigorous as they only get their hands on power one term in three or four. This means they are more interested in reform and legacy issues that they can point at as positive contributions to the state.

  120. @Liam
    I agree with you that ECF2 fails to address the real problems and is counterproductive.

    I think that the universities invited ECF2 upon themselves.

    ECF2 will not be revoked. It will be replaced. Unless the universities constructively engage with their paymaster and regulator and start addressing the problems themselves, ECF2 will be replaced by something approximately as silly.

  121. @ Brian Lucey

    The obvious alternative to a blunt staff embargo mechanism is to have a downsizing of staff numbers but in a university context that may not work?

    Cut admin satff and let academics take on some donkey work?

    How else to prune a budget when staff costs are the overwhelming component?

  122. @Richard Tol
    “ECF2 will not be revoked. It will be replaced.”
    And this, in a roundabout way, was what I was trying to address. Bust companies do this to their staff and departments all the time. Even when only customer money is involved. Say a customer wants a software change to a package involving department x; department x still has to go through the layers of company bureaucracy to get approval for the project, even though the customer is willing to pay.

    So what do the departments do? In my experience, they:
    1. Ignore the restrictions and carry on – you’ll be sacked in a company for non-performance, even if the company is responsible for non-performance, so you might as well be hanged for mutton as for lamb. Probably not an appropriate strategy.
    2. Evade. Set up projects to do one thing that incorporate other things. In software terms, this would be doing paid projects under the guise of “essential system maintenance”. You bluff the non-technical bureaucratic layers with technical overload laced with buzzwords. They come to see the project as essential and their own idea for reviving the business.
    3. Engage. Rewrite the rules for specific instances and attempt to generalise them to suit the bottom up. This requires a level of organisation between departments that is difficult to get. It also requires that you understand and accept the drivers of oversight – you won’t get rid of it, the best you can do is make it manageable.

  123. Richard’s point about educating regulators syncs with something Ferdinand von Prondzynski has bee talking about–the need to educate the public and our regulators about what we do–precisely to avoid ham-fisted solutions like the ECF. This should be something our university presidents can take care of.

    On the ECF itself, we return to the crucial issue not of funding constraints, but of autonomy in hiring, seeking funding, and other matters. Do commenters feel as Richard does that the ECF will be replaced by something 0.X times as draconian, or perhaps by a more enlightened policy? I’d be interested to read everyone’s thoughts.

  124. @Stephen
    Thanks for so neatly illustrating my point. Academic self-government! Let the university president deal with that!

    ECF3 will be (1+epsilon) times as silly as ECF2, where epsilon may well be positive.

  125. @Richard, if our presidents can’t make the point that academics deserve to be let govern themselves, then we shouldn’t have them in the jobs. I’d be willing to take bets on the distribution of that epsilon though.

  126. @ SK

    Perhaps this ECF is an opening move from the HEA seeking concessions from the Uni’s? Now if this is true, do they have specific measures in mind?

  127. @Stephen
    University presidents will not succeed in convincing anybody of the merits of self-government if faculty do not demonstrate that ability — and you just ducked the responsibility by hiding behind the president.

  128. @Richard,
    I’m not hiding behind anyone, and have publicly opposed the ECF since the beginning. I say what I feel needs saying, and I do so publicly when it’s appropriate. If universities are managed well, they should have heads that make the case for autonomy. One does not crowd out the other. I speak on my own behalf, my president should be able to speak on behalf of the university.

    That said, I’m happy to agree to disagree with you.

  129. @Stephen,

    it might be that this is just the opening move in what is expected to be a longer engagement.

    It is not unknown that an opening move is intentionally made to get a strong reaction. Some prefer to have a strong reaction than a weak reaction as the strong reaction is more likely to get many people engaged in resolving the situation. The current proposal seems to have drawn out many people, some of which might not otherwise have come forward to offer their views on how this situation is to be resolved.

    If it is a ploy, then it is a dangerous one as it risks alienating people and that can make it difficult to reach an amicable compromise.

    As I see it, this proposal & any amended proposal will be thoroughly scrutinised and debated. That could lead to a very good end result.

  130. @Richard

    to answer your questions…’Does TCD offer courses to staff of HEA and Dept Edu? Do they attend seminars? Did you give them a tour through your institute? Did you host their staff on sabbatical? Did you detach your staff there?’

    Replacing UCD with TCD instead – yes, including new joint initiative with UChicago’s Harris School plus with HEA a H.Dip in higher education domain; they are invited to all seminars as are many public servants and where related to higher education etc they attend; of course, they paid for it and scrutinise the activity; we have offered – never been taken up; I have engaged with them (pro bono) and have had my PhD students do some work in the policy/data space around education. But what is the point of my answering these in relation to the ECF!!??

    Also on earlier points – we all agree that sometimes Uni’s have not pushed forward their case as effectively as they should. I am not a fan of sectoral approaches as it continues the myth that somehow all of the Irish Uni’s are the same. But again what has that got to do with the ECF being a dumb response. Just take the economics of this and forget the politics.

    I would also contend, Richard, that cuts have taken place – take an example at UCD where the merger of modern languages or history/archives into more substantive Schools have led to real choices about filling or not filling vacancies that would have automatically been filled. For sure programmes have been closed down due to student numbers falling too low. For sure, also, few staff have been made redundant or have been penalised (or rewarded) for productivity issues but Liam has addressed this already. On the whole PAC stuff etc – you should pop in to Hugh Brady and read the correspondence with the HEA before passing judgement. But again, how does this justify in any way the ECF.

    I agree with Liam – I would welcome a posting from you about the productivity based on evidence you have in the areas you discuss. And also agree that ECF3 could be worse if it manages to sign up the Uni heads.

    But it would be really nice to hear an actual view about the underlying merits or otherwise of the ECF. If you consider it a dumb policy move (whatever its political provenance) than do say so loudly.

  131. This may read as awfully contrary but where is the national interest is all this? What has to happen for a sectoral interest to give ground?

    I may have been mistaken but I assumed that under Croke Park the third level was also in the mix to experience reforms in terms and conditions of employment?

  132. The Alchemist: For Heaven’s sake afteer 147 posts it should be clear to you that ECF has little or nothing to do with Croke Park: the latter is all about flexibility of existing staff, the ECF has nothing to do with how existing staff work, but it has everything to do with flexibility in getting hold of new resources, human and financial.

    I can well understand Liam Delaney’s frustration at people who keep ignoring/deviating from the main issue.

  133. @John Sheehan

    From the Croke Park agreement:

    “Universities and Higher Education Institutes

    • Co-operation with redeployment/re-organisation/rationalisation arising from the review of Higher Education strategy and changing economic and social circumstances.
    • A comprehensive review and revision of employment contracts to identify and remove any impediments to the development of an optimum teaching, learning and research environment. This review and revision to be completed in advance of the start of the 2010/11 academic year.”

    If it was clear to me the the ECF had nothing to do with Croke Park, I would not have posed the question. From the above, it is arguable that it has but I may be wrong.

  134. Maybe as we have been told here so many times that we are a bankrupt people (which I dont agree with) that we cannot afford State Funded top of the range Universities anymore so the inevitable is from now on we have to put up with second rate ones or raise the Funding from other sources. I personally do not agree with such policy. If they changed the Tax Laws Alumni would contribute significantly to funding their Alma Maters to make sure that they stay top rate.

  135. Agree with all the comments suggesting universities should push harder on alternative revenue sources. To repeat, this policy makes it a lot harder and impossible in some cases to do that.

  136. The question I cannot find a satisfactory answer for, is, why is a national gov’t micromanaging Colleges and Universities. Do I deduce correctly that employees of C & Us’ in order to get their jobs have to grease palms and kiss TD derrieres as a prerequisite to getting 3rd level edu jobs. Otherwise it becomes hard to explain why TDs are taking such a keen interest in 3rd level employment. Is it because we have three times the number of TDs we need and they are falling over each other in an attempt to be seen to doing something, any thing.

    In countries that I would consider reasonably governed the central gov’t subsidises based on the number of students attending, this comprises 40% to 60% of operating costs an additional subsidy 10% to 20% is comprised of grants to match corporate or institutional funding of research.

    Under no circumstances would it be considered acceptable for Gov’t to direct an institute of higher learning to spend in a specific manner or to do research or not to do research on specific subjects.

    Governments sole responsibility is to subsidise based on enrollment and research conducted. It follows that annual audits are conducted by arms length auditors to ensure that Gov’t funds are used for the intended purpose.

    There are so many aberrations in Irish governance that are considered as normal by the public at large that barring a catastrophic economic collapse will not be dealt with in our lifetimes.

  137. @ The Alchemist. The main gripe about the ECF is the way it kills off incentive to generate research funding and involves civil servants in an intrusive, laborious and frankly unacceptable way in making hiring decisions. There is nothing in University academic employment contracts that in any significant or realistic way impedes the objectives of the Croke Park agreement.

    The attempts by University HR departments to “implement” the Croke Park agreement are another matter, and frankly for another discussion forum.

  138. @Kevin Denny My point would be that universities are capable of being different from the public sector generally and capable of looking more to their international peers than sharing the rigidities of many parts of the PS. Every recent development has been towards bring Irish universities more under the control of a notably ineffective civil service.

    @Michael Hennigan

    I note in the C&AG report cited above that in 2008 UCD spent approximately equal amounts on “Academic” and “Other Staff”, while DCU managed to spend 57% more on “Academic” than “Other Staff”. At least for UCD if the ratio was brought to the DCU level, or even the TCD level then significant resources would be freed to maintain academic levels.

    There is scope for a forthright refinement of administrative procedures to waste less admin and academic time.

    A problem with the present situation is that university administrators have, in many cases, acted more in their own interest than that of their universities and now have an additional layer of administrators to check on them, a layer that will probably do likewise having no real interest in education. How can High Brady speak out to oppose this when he has little support within UCD and is in conflict with the HEA?

  139. Ferdinand Von Prondzynski (who is now head of a Scottish university) has a piece on this. Includes quotes below.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/education/2011/0322/1224292763533.html

    “Then along comes something absolutely and totally crazy, something mindlessly destructive and completely counter- productive, even in terms of what it is supposed to achieve.

    I am talking about the Orwellian-sounding Employment Control Framework (ECF), a Soviet Union-style centralised bureaucratic framework for stifling all initiative and for civil service micro-management of individual colleges. I have been trawling my dictionary of insults to see if I can come up with an adjective that adequately describes this idiocy, and I have found nothing to express it.


    It cannot be said loudly enough. This scheme is mad. It is senseless and destructive. It harms Ireland’s recovery. And it must be reversed as a matter of absolute priority.”

  140. …. Oh come down off the bleed1n towers ……. get out on the streets and RIOT …. do something useful …. close the universities …. THE PLACE IS BLEED1N BROKE – INSOLVENT – BANKRUPT …………

    EDUCATE THE SERFS – DO THE STATE SOME SERVICE ………………….WAKE UP!

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