‘Well-paid research jobs should be State’s focus’

The Government should focus on providing more secure, well-paid careers for researchers instead of approving “exorbitant” salaries to attract small numbers of leading figures to work here, a union has said.

The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) was responding to the recent approval by government departments to allow further exceptions to pay caps in order to attract “world-leading researchers” in limited circumstances.

The €250,000 limit on pay for up to 10 people recruited under a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research professorship programme is over a third higher than the current €185,000 cap in the university sector.

The Department of Education said “special arrangements” were recently approved by it and the Department of Business, Employment, and Innovation, and followed consultations which led SFI to conclude that pay caps in an existing system allowing deviations from university pay limits were acting “as a barrier to attracting exceptional academics to Ireland”.

The departures framework has been used around 20 times since 2002, for very specific circumstances that have to be justified by the relevant colleges and require the approval of the education minister and finance ministers.

IFUT general secretary Joan Donegan said proposed salaries of €250,000 for “a few trophy staff” is no response to a decade of policies that have forced huge numbers of highly-qualified researchers in Irish universities to emigrate or seek alternative employment. “Researchers in colleges in particular have been subject to the harshest cost-cutting measures, including the lack of security of tenure, low pay, and unacceptable working conditions,” she said.

As an example, she said, a number of researchers at Tyndall National Institute which is attached to University College Cork have moved abroad because of a combination of stringent pay caps and lack of state support, and gone on to develop hugely commercial concepts and designs.

“Only this week, IFUT won a long-running Labour Court case concerning an attempt by a university to deny permanent employment to a researcher by manipulating fixed-term employment legislation,” she said.

The case involved a historian employed on several successive contracts at Maynooth University, which made the case to the Labour Court that the nature of the fixed-term contracts was linked to the temporary nature of the project he was working on. It was also argued that the university was restricted by public service employment controls and project-specific funding when it made Ciaran Reilly redundant last year.

However, the Labour Court ruled he had been employed on a contract of indefinite duration by the university in 2014 and should therefore be rehired, in what IFUT has described as a landmark decision.

Ms Donegan compared the move to attract leading researchers as “like lighting matches to drive away the cold”, when there is a wider funding crisis in third-level education. “The simple fact is that the State is starving third-level colleges of state funding,” she said. “The crisis of attracting and maintaining qualified lecturers and researchers will only be reversed by a recommitment of the exchequer to provide adequate resources.”


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