ECF (Exceptional Control Freakiery)

Batt O’Keeffe, with Frank Ryan, Chief Executiv...

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For a time I had a manager in company I once worked with who used to collect weekly reports from their team members, and who also micro managed their time to within an inch of their lives. It was later discovered that said manager was culling those weekly reports to provide weekly report to their own manager and that they were depicting some items as being their work rather than the work of their team members.

The detail of the Employment Control Framework (ECF) (from what I’ve been able to discern from it) appears to be derived from a similar mentality that has been all too pervasive in Irish public life for much too long. Certainly it is too often the case that many elements of the Irish public sector have been too cosset-teed and protected from taking the consequences of their mistakes. Yet to respond to that problem by removing almost all autonomy in who you can hire as the newest  implementation of the ECF has done is to head in entirely the wrong direction. What we should aim for is to let all 3rd level institutions have the freedom to try new things and to live with the consequences of failure instead of infantile nannishness that would prevent them from hiring people even when they are going to be paid by some 3rd party from industry unless the HEA signs off on each individual hire. Excessive control from above is no way to foster a culture of innovation and adventure. Of course given the nature of 3rd level research employment, which I was up to recently a part of, the people who will effected by this are the very people that we are asking to power the knowledge economy, it won’t be the administrators or the members of the permanent university infrastructure that will be most affected. It will be those who are transitioning from being post-graduates to post Docs who may have during the course of their research work generated some new idea or finding that might yield a new product or service. However, the perspective of the HEA appears to be that we should avoid having them work within the context of a bridge between industry and academia, better that they leave the Irish academic environment altogether even if this means they leave the country taking the prospect of developing that research into something concrete with them. Again this is the same public service that was deducting pension levies from people on short term contracts that they would not ever be able to avail of.

So let’s get the ECF off the backs of the colleges and let’s instead start to expect more of them. The reality is that this approach as manifested in the ECF flies full in the face of SFI’s intention to encourage and make more productive the links between industry and 3rd level academic research. It’s like having a sports coach that demands you are quicker off the line in the sprint but then ties your shoe laces together and acts the maggot with the starting gun.

The more Machiavellian part of my brain has to wonder where lies the true provenance of this framework, and what was its real intention? Did any of it originate with the highly resentful and petty minded attitude we saw from the previous minister for Education?

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