Financially hit universities consider recruitment freezes

Recruitment freezes are on the cards at universities as the sector braces for the financial impact of Covid-19 on higher education.
Financially hit universities consider recruitment freezes
The campus at the University of Limerick.
The campus at the University of Limerick.

Recruitment freezes are on the cards at universities as the sector braces for the financial impact of Covid-19 on higher education.

With the pandemic expected to have a major financial impact on the sector, universities are working through the many implications of the shutdown for all aspects of their operations.

Given the severe drop in income expected due to the collapse in international student fees, as well as commercial revenues due to the current restrictions, universities are now reviewing recruitment.

That is according to the Irish Universities Association, the representative body for seven universities. “Those reviews are expected to be completed in the near future by most universities,” it said.

This week, University of Limerick (UL) told staff that more than 81 positions open at the university are likely to be left unfilled due to its recruitment freeze, which is to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

“Like most other universities we have applied a recruitment freeze in order to prevent costs from rising where possible,” the university told staff via email.

All current vacant positions will be reviewed to see if they can proceed, with externally funded positions not expected to be affected.

However, UL expects a large number will not go ahead, with only a very limited number of exceptions set to be approved.

President Des Fitzgerald previously confirmed the university would likely be facing a significant deficit in both 2020 and 2021.

Recruitment is also being reviewed at University College Cork (UCC), with posts being examined on a case-by-case basis, a spokesman confirmed. “UCC is also reviewing a number of scenarios to project its financial outlook for 2020/2021 given the constantly evolving pandemic situation,” he said.

State funding of the sector has yet to return to pre-2008 recession levels, he added. “Exceptional state support is required to support the operations of the third-level sector, so that it can maintain operations and contribute to Ireland’s economic recovery.”

A clear consultation process with colleges, staff, and students should now be urgently set up by the Government, according to the Irish Federation of University Teachers.

General secretary Joan Donegan said the silence so far has meant uncertainty over the status of thousands of casually employed and part-time contract staff.

“There is an increasing risk that many students will opt out of or defer college, especially when added to the impact of job losses and financial uncertainty for their families,” she said.

Meanwhile, NUI Galway has announced major changes to the 2020/2021 academic year due to Covid-19. The university has told its students the academic year will start later and there will be a blend of in-class and online learning.

Semester-one exams will likely be moved to January instead of taking place before Christmas.

First-year students, who usually begin orientation in September, will start in November. The university is aiming to structure teaching and assessment so students will return to the normal academic year structure during their second year.

Returning NUI Galway students are expected to resume studies on September 28.

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