In the two years to the end of 2010, total staff numbers in the universities, institutes of technology and other state-funded colleges fell from 19,405 to 18,055. But the 7% drop in staff, leading to annual savings of €80 million, is set against a 15% rise in full-time student numbers to 156,000.
The figures come after last week’s announcement by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin that the numbers employed in the public service fell by 5,000 in the last year.
Yesterday, the HEA announced steps to ease staffing and promotion restrictions.
It has made changes to the employment control framework, which puts a strict ceiling on third-level staffing. The authority has reversed the requirement that colleges must notify the HEA of appointments to posts funded commercially or by any other non-Exchequer source.
But a stipulation is to remain in place that no pension liability for the state can arise from such posts.
Mike Jennings, general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers, said the most significant change is that permission for colleges to fill small numbers of academic posts no longer limits them to temporary or fixed-term contracts.
Meanwhile, primary and second-level teacher unions have started talks with the Department of Education on cost-cutting measures that might avoid increasing pupil-teacher ratios in 2012.