The heads of Irish universities have questioned the legality of attempts by the Government to place a moratorium on the recruitment and promotion of staff.
The seven Irish universities have been given two years to balance their books as the Government tightens spending during the recession. Now the Higher Education Authority (HEA), the main funding body in Ireland, has told universities and technology colleges not to recruit new staff or promote academics.
The employment control framework published earlier this month says there should be "no filling of vacancies by recruitment, promotion or the payment of an allowance for the performance of duties at a higher level". The HEA will also set overall targets for reducing staffing levels at each institution.
The Irish Federation of University Teachers (Ifut) has criticised the HEA, stating that the edict interferes with institutional independence and could put the future of the sector at risk.
"It's not up to the Government to micromanage the university sector," said Mike Jennings, general secretary of the Ifut. "Permanent posts will be filled only in extreme cases, and if they're filled at all they will be filled on a fixed-term-contract basis." He said the framework would lead to the casualisation of the sector.
Mr Jennings said that the edict could be illegal, breaching the Universities Act 1997.
Ned Costello, chief executive of the Irish Universities Association, said the group has asked the HEA how the proposals were compatible with the legislation. He added that budgets could be met without such heavy-handed action.
Meanwhile, at the University College Cork, president Michael Murphy has asked all staff to forgo one week's pay in an attempt to stave off a potential 90 job losses.
However, the Ifut has rejected the offer as tantamount to "blackmail".
"It is being implied that (staff) are responsible for the university's decision to terminate the employment of colleagues unless they make a personal sacrifice," it said.