New rules in higher education ‘a debacle’, officials told

New rules in higher education ‘a debacle’, officials told

 

SEÁN FLYNN, Education Editor

NEW RULES governing appointments in the higher education sector are a “debacle”, a senior civil servant has claimed.

In a scathing confidential assessment sent to senior education figures, Martin Shanagher, assistant secretary at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, says the moves will “penalise’’ research activity, and were made without considering the full implications.

His comments, in a confidential note, come amid growing controversy about new Higher Education Authority controls, labelled as Stalinist by senior academics. He concludes, “much needs to be learned about how to conduct our affairs”.

The revised Employment Control Framework, issued by the previous government in its final days, gives the authority power to scrutinise and approve appointments. It applies not just to core staff but to all staff employed in higher education, whether their posts are funded by the exchequer or not.

Any posts created or any renewal/renegotiation of existing contracts for non-core staff will be subject to an employer’s pension contribution charge of 20 per cent of gross pay to protect the State from future pension liabilities.

Mr Shanagher is a member of the group charged with implementing the recent Hunt report on higher education.

In his memo to fellow members of the implementation group, he refers to “the debacle with the ECF [Employment Control Framework]”, and queries:

“how it could be put together without any input from a department [Enterprise] that invests €250 million per annum in higher education research and innovation;

how it could be issued without ever having been presented to or discussed by Government, where we or our Minister might have seen it;

how it could be titled in the circulating e-mail as approved by Minister on 10 March [the first day in office of the new Government] when it appears to have been the last unilateral act of an outgoing Minister post an election defeat; how it could be  structured so as to penalise enterprise-relevant research activity funded by this department through the combination of 30 per cent overhead + 20 per cent further pension levy + normal pension levy and for pensions that may never arise;

how it could be considered unilaterally agreed when it would take out €27 million per annum of research activity funded by this department and this was never quantified in terms of numbers of existing researchers that would have to be decommitted, research centres closed down and these implications put before Government;

how the impact of unilaterally increasing the costs to enterprise engaging with institutions was never factored in and considered; much needs to be learned about how to conduct our affairs.’’

The Shanagher memo was sent to several senior education figures including Brigid McManus, secretary general of the Department of Education, and Tom Boland, Higher Education Authority chief executive. Its publication will intensify pressure on Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn and the authority to abolish the controls.

While the authority continued to defend the controls on recruitment, the seven university presidents appeared hopeful the controversy could be resolved next week in behind-the-scenes talks with the authority. The presidents have expressed dismay at the “Soviet -style’’ new rules.

The Irish Times – Friday, March 18, 2011

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