Revised Employment Control Framework

The ECF for the higher education sector has been revised. Many elements from the last version have been changed. The last draft introduced a range of measures including: the need for specific pre-approval of all individual posts (exchequer funded or not) from a small central government committee; specific quotas for each university regardless of how successful or not they actually were in attaining research income; and decisions made on the suitability of academic hires on the basis of their alignment to government strategy documents.

The new version is a vastly improved document. All of the above elements have been removed. There are sector-wide quotas, in keeping with the need to reduce costs, but allocation with respect of research posts to each university will depend, as you would expect, on how much of the research funding the university actually wins in the competitions administered by SFI, HRB etc., Furthermore, the specific pre-approval process has been shelved as has the frankly puzzling attempt to impose quotas on posts secured from non-exchequer funds. The latter should surely be welcomed by everyone.

The main reason for a revised employment control framework was to deal with pension liabilities arising from contract research staff. In this regard, the new draft forces a fully-funded proviso on to all new grant applications, with grant applicants (exchequer or non-exchequer) now being required to cost 20 per cent of employee salaries into grant applications for pension purposes, starting with new applications. This is a blunt way of dealing with this issue, and there should be further debate on this. In general, the treatment of contract researchers as if they were civil servants in terms of contracts and pensions is one of the defining issues in Irish research at present. It continuously creates confusion on all sides. Attracting bright researchers to Ireland is a legitimate goal of government policy supported by much research on how to create thriving cities. Placing such contractual and bureaucratic impediments to this is counterproductive and groups that represent contract researchers have been among the most vocal in pointing this out.

Hopefully, the new document signals a more productive debate about higher education in Ireland and an improvement in the relations between the universities and the state, which seemed to have degenerated substantially at the beginning of this year. Universities do contribute to both economic growth and to the development and maintenance of healthy democracies in ways that go beyond the current linear big-tech innovation models being employed by government. Attracting top researchers into Ireland on a much larger scale funded by a much more diverse range of sources is one avenue that the country still has open as an attainable policy goal even at a time of dwindling resources and, in fact, reductions in property prices and the general cost of living may make Ireland a more attractive place for European-funded researchers as these grants have retained their nominal value.

8 thoughts on “Revised Employment Control Framework”

  1. Good news. Universities are currently between 60-88 per cent dependent on the state for income. In a short period of time the IMF-ECB-EC will need to see this ratio reversed. It will help that you are allowed to hire when using non-exchequer income!!! It is still a uphill battle to do achieve a reversal in this ratio. Yet the Geary Institute won a ERC, so thats a good start. Just need to replicate this success another few hundred times accross the sector! Mostly self-funded Universities would make a lot of third level quangos “without a thread of doubt” a 100 per cent vestigial. Even bigger taxpayer savings here, see An Bord Snip Nua Report. Two billion spent on the third level each year. Clearly more than 1 billion euros can be saved by reintroducing fees and getting rid of quangos.

  2. (Very) back of the envelope calculations: the latest HEA figures say there is just under 88k university students. I’m guessing no more than about 70k are undergrads. Say we increase their fees (they are already paying a charge) by €8k per annum: that generates s a bit above half a billion.
    Remember many students are covered by the Higher Education Grant scheme (the proportion has increased with the recession) and a big increase in fees would generate pressure to make this system more generous rather than less. So assuming that such students fees were covered by the scheme, as they were before abolition, then the net gain to the Exchequer might be around €250m ?
    The €8k p.a. is arbitrary but I somehow doubt if the government would get away with more, on average.

  3. @The Alchemist

    If you are referring to the new framework, it fits with Croke Park in agreeing reductions in numbers. The other madness that was inserted into the last draft had nothing to do with the Croke Park agreement.

  4. Universities, and the formation of cohorts of highly trained workers contribute not only to the economy but also to government finances.

    According to the OECD, the public cost of higher education in this economy is equivalent to US$18,520, the government return for a male student is $92,738, a fivefold return.

    The NPV (a concept familiar to bond investors) of tertiary education is $74,000 for a make, over $46,000 (pressing home action in pavour of equal pay would raise that).

    The government could insist that the troika take a glance at OECD Education At A Glance 2010, and make funds available for investment in higher education in order to reduce the deficit.

  5. The Irish government is betntig that the underlying viable Irish economy can support the huge burden that is being placed upon it and also that it can continue to borrow huge amounts of money. If this bet succeeds then all we’re faced with is long years of sub-par growth and, as the FT called it, “financial oppression” of the economically valuable people and businesses in the country. Eventually, decades from now, the debt being accumulated now might eventually be paid off. Ireland will be much poorer than it would have been, but would appear superficially intact.If the bet fails, then the Irish economy faces total disaster as people with mobile skills leave and as viable businesses die and fail and the ability to borrow enough money fades away – leaving both a dead economy and a catastrophic situation for the funding of civil servant pensions, i.e. no money any more.The only bail out that Ireland needs is replacement of our current gamblers with people prepared to bet that, long term, we need to have viable business to reward hard-working people, and even to allow hard work to result in savings rather than confiscatory taxation. This means no marginal tax increases, means sharp cuts in spending, including ALL areas, and ideally means doing it in one hard and sharp move. This would requires letting the recent economic damage fall on specific groups rather than attempting to spread it onto everyone. The groups would probably include mortgage holders (who are likely to be squeezed for every penny they borrowed on houses which should be let fall further in price), civil servants (whose index linked pensions and high salaries have to go), Judges (ditto), quangos (ditto), creditors and even depositors of Irish banks (oopsie), etc. Doing this would result in financial misery for many people. That’s highly unfortunate, particularly if the govt does the usual and cuts things like benefits for truly unfortunate categories like the old and sick rather than cutting pay for civil servants and judges. However, it might allow a clean future for many parts of the economy and for many people like graduates, children, etc.. So, there seem to be three likely scenarios. One is that the government plans hurt everyone in the country a lot, and actually much more than an even share of the already existing damage, since there’ll be interest on top. That’s their current best case. The second is that everyone in the country ends up entirely broke. That’s what’ll happen if the current bet fails and the economic curves go bad. The alternate is to recognize that a lot of people have already been made poor by the boom and bust, and to let that sword fall. This MIGHT allow the rest of the population to rebuild something useful. Might. It’s what the IMF is likely to aim for if they come in.

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