Irish Universities among the most constrained on staffing in Europe - IUA Press Release 02.03.23

Ireland one of few higher education systems that cannot freely decide on staff recruitment and determine salaries.

  • Upcoming EUA autonomy scorecard for higher education systems across Europe includes latest findings on Ireland’s university sector.

Ireland’s university sector ranks poorly on staffing autonomy when compared with university sectors across Europe.

Our universities face greater restrictions and lack of flexibility when it comes to staff recruitment, salary determination and promotions, ranking 24 out of 35 European higher education systems in a detailed analysis by the European University Association (“EUA”). The restrictions, arising from the government-imposed Employment Control Framework, limit overall staffing and prohibit permanent contracts for non-core staff in universities.

The new scorecard, which will be published in full on March 7th, ranks 35 higher education systems across Europe, focusing on autonomy in universities across four dimensions: Organisational, Financial, Staffing, and Academic.

Ireland ranks 18th in financial autonomy, which includes the type and duration of public funding, the ability to borrow money, ownership of assets, and determination of tuition fees for national, EU, and non-EU students.

Ireland ranked 12th in organisational autonomy which encompasses presidential appointments, governing body membership, and development of academic structures.

Ireland ranked 3rd in academic autonomy which includes determining overall student numbers, introducing and terminating programmes, as well as designing content of programmes.

Findings from the EUA’s University Autonomy in Europe IV: The Scorecard 2023 will be presented today (March 2nd) at a seminar hosted by Irish Universities Association (IUA) at the Royal College of Physicians.

Thomas Estermann, Director of Governance, Funding and Public Policy Development with the EUA will be the keynote speaker on a panel discussion on why the most autonomous universities are the most successful. He will be joined by Prof. Kerstin Mey, President University of Limerick and Chair of IUA Council 2023, as well as other Irish university representatives.

Commenting on the publication of the scorecard, Prof. Kerstin Mey, President of University of Limerick and Chair of IUA Council 2023 said: “The EUA autonomy scorecard is a very good benchmark for Ireland. While the ranking in academic autonomy is to be welcomed, staffing autonomy continues to be a problem in our universities.

“It is essential that the restrictive ceilings imposed by the Employment Control Framework on staff numbers in third level are relaxed or removed. The ECF may have served a purpose more than a decade ago as an austerity measure, but it is now limiting the capacity of the sector to adequately cater for student needs and resulting in an increase in casual or part-time staffing.”

Thomas Estermann, Director of Governance, Funding and Public Policy Development, EUA, said: “EUA is dedicated to supporting universities in their efforts to make successful decisions on the issues affecting them, especially in areas such as management, funding, human resources and academic profile, both in the EU and in other European countries. Promoting institutional autonomy as a core principle continues to be highly relevant and important, as it supports university values and enhances their ability to compete and succeed.

“The EUA Autonomy Scorecard features extensive information on the current state of university autonomy and governance reforms in Europe. By gathering, comparing and weighing data from higher education institutions across the continent, EUA provides in-depth benchmarking of national policies and legal frameworks with regard to university autonomy and the exchange of good practices. Since its creation, the Scorecard has become a reference point in discussions about university autonomy in Europe and beyond.”

The scorecard outlines a number of trends in staffing autonomy across the 35 higher education systems surveyed:

  • In half of the systems, civil servant status continues to apply to a majority of senior staff. The Netherlands has now completed a long-term deregulation process.
  • Critical points of tension include rigidities in staffing matters such as salary setting, contract duration and criteria such as language proficiency.
  • More flexible recruitment paths, ambitions regarding international attractiveness remain thwarted by regulations.


For media queries and interview opportunities contact:

Lia O’Sullivan, Head of Communications, Irish Universities Association (IUA).

085 7141414


Notes to Editors

The European University Association (EUA) represents more than 850 universities and national rectors’ conferences in 49 European countries. EUA plays a crucial role in the Bologna Process and in influencing EU policies on higher education, research and innovation. Through continuous interaction with a range of other European and international organisations, EUA ensures that the independent voice of European universities is heard.

The EUA Autonomy Scorecard is made up of a comparative summary report. The 3rd edition will be published on 7 March.  Individual country profiles of 35 higher education systems will be published throughout 2023.