Funding Crisis Highlights Warped Priorities

Mike Jennings

Everyone accepts that there is a funding crisis in Irish Universities

The Minister’s glib remedy is that we must do more with less but he refuses to face up to the fact that there is only so much spare capacity in any system and when that is used up and you keep cutting then quality must inevitably suffer – perhaps irreparably.

Another exculpatory theme is that there is “too much waste in the system and that money could be put to better use.”  Those of us who care passionately about, and have a good knowledge of our Universities find ourselves faced with a major conflict when confronted with this statement.  On the one hand we do not wish to give credence to any simplistic mantra which is used to inflict serious damage on our system by under estimating just how much funding is required.  But on the other hand we do know that warped priorities can and do give rise to decisions on spending which are almost incomprehensible to those in the front line delivering lectures and doing research.

Every academic in Ireland can testify to the fact that the real growth areas, staffing- wise, in recent years is in the area of administration.  If this growth led to a reduction in the administrative workload for lecturers it would be tolerable and even welcome.  But the opposite is the case.  It seems that the more administrative staff we have, the more form filling is required to keep feeding the ever-increasing bureaucratization of our profession.

Human Resources and Personnel Depts. are an important sub set of administration.  As individuals most employees working in this area are decent and honourable people.  I know, I meet them every day!  But it is hard to assuage resentments elsewhere when the growth of staff numbers in their departments contrasts so much with those in teaching/research.

But the real scandal only begins after we mention the size of the H.R. Departments.  The real scandal is the priority mindset of those who control university policies.  More and more scarce money is used not to enhance the quality of working life within the Colleges but rather to resist and defeat efforts by staff to achieve rights given to them by law or afforded to them by industrial relations agreements (for example the trade off between pay cuts and job security).

Each of the Universities not only retains a large personnel department but on top of that they pay massive fees to the employer’s organisation IBEC to help them fight against staff claims.  In 2010 the Universities gave IBEC €389,543 in membership fees alone not to mention other charges.

But it doesn’t end there.  Since 2006 the universities have, in addition to H.R. and IBEC costs, paid out an average of €2.7m per year in legal costs and two thirds of those were spent in cases against their own staff.  This was revealed in the Irish Examiner on 30th September 2013.

In February 2013 the Sunday Business Post revealed that the seven Universities had spent more than €12m on legal fees in a four-year period.  Not surprising therefore that nowadays when an official from the Irish Federation of University Teachers goes in to the Labour Court to argue that 15/16 years is much too long to be treated as a temporary employee he or she will face not only the H.R. of the University but also an official from IBEC and/or a lawyer from one of the most      expensive law firms in the country such as Arthur Cox, McCann Fitzgerald etc.

Some funding decisions make staff sad or confused but others make them angry.  A spend of €12 of taxpayers’ money to prevent staff getting their rights should surely make all of us angry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>