Thursday 22 February 2018

Quinn backs down in college row

Ruairi Quinn: open to constructive ideas
Ruairi Quinn: open to constructive ideas

John Walshe and Katherine Donnelly

MINISTERS are preparing to soften tough new restrictions on appointments and promotions in universities.

Academics say the "Soviet-style" controls, designed to reduce the cost of the public sector paybill, would strip universities of their independence and autonomy.

There is widespread anger over the new Employment Control Framework drawn up by the state funding agency, the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

The new controls would even affect appointments to positions funded privately or by the EU, such as those on prestigious and lucrative research contracts

But Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and Enterprise and Innovation Minister Richard Bruton said yesterday that a review was under way.

Mr Quinn said while they could not take their eye off the "bottom line" of the nation's finances, they were mindful of problems arising around research activity. He said they would welcome constructive suggestions from the third-level sector and believed "we can find a solution".

Mr Bruton said there were elements of the framework that had to be reviewed and that they could not have a system that restricted research.

Dr Eoin O'Dell, of TCD, said there was unanimous opposition among academics to the framework and that the framework was also of dubious legality. This was because staffing guidelines issued by the HEA are not binding under the Universities Act 1997.

Dr O'Dell said there were far less restrictive means to reduce the public sector paybill than the framework, which could be challenged on the grounds that it is "disproportionate".

The Irish Independent understands that the heads of the universities have long been of the view that the original framework was illegal. However, they went along with it in the national interest and agreed to cut staff numbers by 6pc by the end of December.

The revised framework is even more restrictive but if it is challenged in court by the university heads, some fear it might lead to the 1997 Universities Act being amended in an unacceptable way and that this would lead to a greater loss of autonomy.

High-level talks are already under way to defuse the anger and the HEA is holding meetings with interested parties to issue reassurances and agree procedures.

Irish Independent

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