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Academics furious over HEA's strict hiring limits

TOUGH new controls have been imposed over all appointments to third-level institutions -- sparking anger from top academics.

The revised Employment Control Framework for the colleges sets down absolute limits on the numbers and grades of staff in teaching, research, administrative and other posts.

Academics branded it last night as a "crazy and ludicrous scheme" which will mean "Soviet-style state control" over autonomous universities.

They said the controversial new rules were a "ludicrous attempt to turn academics into public servants", claiming that the framework would damage Ireland's growing reputation for high-quality research.

The new framework gives the Higher Education Authority (HEA) significant powers in deciding which areas staff can be appointed in across the sector, where student numbers are expected to grow from around 160,000 today to at least 182,000 in three to four years.

The universities and other colleges will still hire and fire staff, but under much closer scrutiny and approval from the HEA, which says this is necessary because of the IMF/EU bailout and the need to cut public sector numbers.

Among the measures outlined in the eight-page document -- seen by the Irish Independent -- are:

  • Keeping staff numbers at an absolute limit of 25,000.
  • Extending HEA control to research staff funded privately or by the EU.
  • No increase in the number of senior posts.
  • Redeployment of staff, if necessary from other colleges, to fill vacancies.
  • New appointments to be on a fixed-term basis, with permanent appointments in exceptional cases.

The document, which was signed off by outgoing Finance Minister Brian Lenihan just before he left office, allows the HEA to block research appointments even if they are privately funded.

HEA chief executive Tom Boland last night said these staff had entitlements to future pension benefits, which represented a deferred cost or liability for the Exchequer.

But TCD professor of international business and provost candidate Dr Colm Kearney said it would condemn Irish universities to "penury" for decades.

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