Jobs freeze looms as pay cuts 'panic' grips colleges
A NEW HSE-style jobs freeze looms for the university sector as it struggles to cope with the Government's pay-cut demands.
Two universities have already imposed a jobs embargo and others may have to leave posts vacant because of a cash crisis that has been described as provoking "near panic".
But one senior administrator said a complete embargo would not work as students would sue if lectures could not be delivered because of unfilled teaching posts.
Between them, the country's seven universities face accumulated deficits of more than €20m by the end of the year, and UCD and NUI Maynooth have both moved to halt recruitment to meet a 3pc pay cut imposed by the Government.
The cash problems come against a backdrop of heated debate over whether fees should be used to help fund the university system.
In the country's biggest university, UCD, all new appointments have now been 'frozen' until five-year staffing plans for individual schools have been drawn up and approved, which is likely to take some time. Only in very exceptional cases will jobs be filled.
The university's finance committee met in special session on Monday night to discuss other methods of reducing costs following the government decision to impose the 3pc cut in pay spending
In NUI Maynooth, its president John Hughes told staff that he was reluctantly imposing a complete freeze on recruitment until further notice.
"This includes posts for which interviews have been held but where recommended appointments have not yet been approved," he said in a letter.
"It includes permanent and fixed-term posts, except those which are externally funded."
In the letter, seen by the Irish Independent, Prof Hughes says also that the ongoing campus improvement programme will be curtailed for 12 months or until such time as the full extent of the budget cuts is known.
The Irish Federation of University Teachers told the Higher Education Authority (HEA) yesterday of the "near panic" in the universities as they tried to come to grips with the pay reduction.
General secretary Mike Jennings said that staff everywhere had been told to "cut, cut, cut" and the situation was much worse than was generally realised.
The most drastic cuts to date are in the National University of Ireland Maynooth where non-pay spending for all departments is being slashed by at least 15pc and investment in research support is being reduced by €200,000.
The university presidents meet Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe on 24 September to discuss the funding crux.
The cut in government spending will be raised at the forthcoming meeting with the minister, which will also discuss his planned review of higher education.
The review will include funding mechanisms for higher education and will look again at fees which some university presidents see as a partial answer to their problems.
Spokespersons for the five other universities: Trinity, UCC, UL, NUI Galway and DCU, said meetings were being held this month to consider how to deal with the cuts.
NUIG gave an assurance that every effort would be made to ensure that front-line teaching and research would not be adversely affected.