1,100 staff could go in Irish spending freeze

December 19, 2003

Job losses are inevitable following an Irish government decision to freeze state spending on the republic's seven universities next year. Exchequer funding makes up 85 per cent of the universities' annual income.

The Conference of Heads of Irish Universities warned the freeze could lead to the loss of 1,100 full-time equivalent posts.

Its spokesman, Seamus Smyth, president of the National University of Ireland Maynooth, said the universities faced increased pay commitments next year of 8 per cent. But if inflation were taken into account, the real cut was 10 to 11 per cent.

University finance officers are urgently examining ways of living with the cuts. Already they have announced that large numbers of vacant posts will remain unfilled, promotions will be put on hold, library hours will be reduced and non-pay budgets will not be increased.

Trinity College, Dublin, has raided contingency funds much to the chagrin of academics, who had accumulated them over the years. The university also announced that it would open on January 5, rather than January 2, saving €10,000 (£7,000) on heating costs.

Students at University College Dublin have protested against reduced library hours.

The severity of the cuts has surprised some, especially as the government has resumed substantial investment in research and constantly refers to the need for increased skill levels and moving up the jobs' value-chain in a knowledge-based economy.

Other areas of education have received increases to cover pay rises and other charges. Education minister Noel Dempsey acknowledged that universities faced difficult choices but hinted that he did not know if taxpayers were getting value for money from universities.

He has also hinted that there could be greater productivity from universities. Universities deny there is room for economies and they suggest Mr Dempsey does not realise the damage that the cuts will do to the Irish economy.

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