I reproduce Colm Kearney's comments on the ECF in full below. Colm Harmon here has also talked openly about this. The ninth-level-Ireland blog have reproduced the document here. Anyone claiming to have any concern for universities needs to read this and understand what is happening. This is a deathblow for the concept of a serious independent university in Ireland. I really urge people in the Labour party to look at this as it seems totally inconsistent with their traditional support for higher education and it is ironic that their first serious move on getting control of the education ministry will be to effectively destroy universities as we know them. (I accept commentator Daniel's clarification that this was an FF-signed policy but this does not change anything here as it is the first policy that Labour will have to implement) This has nothing got to do with academic pay and conditions etc., Paycuts were not resisted with any degree of seriousness in Irish universities. This has got to do with the basic definition and purpose of universities. No serious academic would want to be in a university defined as so tightly under state control. There will be an exodus of the most dedicated academics from Ireland if this goes through. This may even be partly what is intended by the document.
As Professor of International Business, having held chairs in Economics and in Finance, and as a former senior economic advisor to the Australian Minister for Finance, I well understand the need for responsible fiscal management.
The new ‘Employment Control Framework for the Higher Education Sector 2011-2014’ is dated 10 March 2011. I have carefully read this document (henceforth referred to as the ECF2) a number of times over the weekend – with a growing sense of disbelief. It is the worst example of policy design and attempted implementation that I have ever come across.
The blogosphere is already filling up with comments from academics in Ireland and further afield about how damaging the ECF2 would be, if implemented, to third level education, research, the economy and Irish society. I am confident that many more arguments against this policy will be advanced in the coming days. In summary, the ECF2, if implemented, will:
• Effectively eliminate all university discretion in its decision-making on recruitment and promotion, even when the relevant funding comes from non-exchequer sources.
• Cause an immediate and precipitous collapse in total income to the universities that will be very difficult to reverse.
• Irreparably damage Ireland’s international reputation and positioning as a competitive education and research hub.
• Prevent many current education and research programmes that have non- exchequer funding from continuing, and cause the withdrawal of international funding from other projects.
• Lead to the loss of future funded research collaborations between Irish researchers and international teams – who might well choose not to collaborate with Irish researchers because of the ECF2 straightjacket.
• Further alienate Ireland’s most talented academics and researchers, who have already experienced huge declines in income with no prospects for promotion and career advancement.
• Lead many of Ireland’s internationally mobile academics to consider emigrating to work in countries where their talents and skills are appreciated and rewarded.
• Push Ireland’s brightest and most gifted students to follow the best academic talent to pursue their education and seek employment abroad.
• Cause job losses in the ‘smart economy’ and force knowledge workers to emigrate – given the importance of the third-level education and research sector to attracting foreign investment.
• Destroy a wide range of educational, research and job-creating initiatives in the arts, humanities, social and health sciences that also contribute to the truly smart economy.
• Condemn the universities to fiscal penury for decades to come.
• Worsen rather than improve the government’s budgetary position by depressing income tax, consumption tax and corporate tax revenues.
The ECF2 has nothing to do with responsible fiscal management of Ireland’s economy – which can be achieved in a constructive way that will allow the universities to navigate their way through a difficult time of economic adjustment, while also achieving the targets that government determines appropriate.
Rather, the ECF2 makes it abundantly clear that the Higher Education Authority (HEA) is intent on using Ireland’s fiscal crisis as an opportunity to undermine the autonomy of the universities as embodied in the 1997 Universities Act, and to justify its existence by micro-managing the universities.
This constitutes a direct attack on academic freedom. It also weakens each university’s independence and autonomy. The ECF2 consequently undermines the fundamental freedom of intellectual enquiry, critical thought and expression that this country so desperately needs.
I have no information about the background to the production of the ECF2 document. The surprise expressed by commentators so far leads me to wonder whether any Irish universities or the Irish Universities Association were consulted. Given the timing of its release, I also wonder whether the new government was consulted.
I believe that Trinity College will be keen to engage positively and constructively with the new Minister for Education and Skills and his colleagues in the new government to seek and implement policy solutions that will work for Ireland.
Prof. Colm Kearney, FTCD