The dubious second Employment Control Framework is revised

HEA logo, via the HEA websiteIn March, I blogged about the dubious legality of the second Employment Control Framework, which the outgoing government had introduced to control employment in the third level sector. It was misguided and controversial (eg, Liam Delaney here, and here | Dermot Frost | Bernie Goldbach | Aidan Kane | Stephen Kinsella | Rob Kitchen | James McInerney | Donncha O’Connell | Stefano Sanvito | Ferdinand von Prondzynski, passim, but esp here, here, and here). After some discord and delay, that framework has now, it seems, been greatly revised to resolve many of the contentious issues (see Revised ECF 2011-2014 June 2011 (pdf)).

Tom Boland, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Authority, said that the revised Framework “provides reasonable flexibility to the higher education institutions to manage their staffing requirements”; and the public response has been largely positive. For example, in today’s Irish Independent Katherine Donnelly writes that Ministers softened their approach after an outcry from colleges about ‘Soviet-style’ controls, which greeted the original proposals published earlier this year. Again, in today’s Irish Times, Sean Flynn points out that the revised framework removes the onus on colleges to notify the Higher Education Authority of appointments which are funded from external sources, and gives colleges additional flexibility on promotional posts. And, in today’s Irish Examiner, Niall Murray reports that Mike Jennings, general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers accorded the revision a cautious welcome. Similarly, Ned Costello, Chief Executive of the Irish Universities Association, said that “the revisions acknowledge that the response to the national financial crisis must be balanced by according universities the flexibility to manage their resources to best effect”. Moreover, über-critic Ferdinand von Prondzynski concluded:

The new revised framework is still not entirely unproblematical, but most of the objectionable aspects of the original have now been removed. This is a welcome development for the higher education system.

This is all well and good, but whilst the new framework addresses many substantive concerns, my doubts about its legality remain. Although it seems likely that the necessary ministerial consents were obtained this time around, I am not convinced that the still-expansive framework is justified by the provisions of the Universities Act, 1997. Nevertheless, since the sector is prepared to live with the new framework, its legal dubieties are likely to go unchallenged.