Colleges win battle to halt 'Soviet-style' cuts
THIRD-LEVEL colleges have won a battle for more control over how to apply the latest curbs on staff appointments and promotions.
Colleges will still have to reduce staff numbers, but will have greater flexibility in filling jobs.
Ministers softened their approach after an outcry from colleges about 'Soviet-style' controls, which greeted the original proposals published earlier this year.
Third-level institutions are subject to a new Employment Control Framework as part of the general drive to reduce the numbers working in the public sector.
The previous framework, which ran through 2009-2010, resulted in 1,361staff reductions in colleges, bringing overall levels down from 19,405 to 18,044.
It amounted to a 7pc cut in staffing, and an ongoing payroll saving of €80m, at a time when third-level student numbers rose by 15pc.
Of the posts that disappeared in the universities and institutes of technology, 527 were academic and 834 of them were non-academic.
Under the latest framework, published yesterday by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), staffing has to decrease by a further 1pc between now and 2014.
HEA chief executive Tom Boland said that while everyone would prefer that controls on staffing were not necessary, the framework provided reasonable flexibility to the higher education institutions to control how they manage their staff needs.
He said that the revised framework was a result of very constructive discussion between the HEA and the departments of education and public expenditure and reform.
In one concession, colleges have been told that they may fill jobs on a permanent basis, and not only on a fixed-term or fixed-purpose contract basis, as was originally proposed.
There is also some compromise in relation to the filling of research posts, funding for which does not come directly from the Exchequer, through the HEA.
There was an attempt to control such appointments by putting a ceiling on numbers and requiring the colleges to get HEA approval for each new post.
This was because of government concerns about future pension liabilities for such staff.
The ceiling has been removed, as has the requirement for HEA approval, but colleges have also been told that the Exchequer will not pick up the tab for any of the pensions arising from such appointments.
Colleges also have flexibility in relation to promotions, subject to maintaining a balance between different grades of employment, such as academic and administrative staff.