Trouble on the Horizon


The UCD recruitment ban could have a stifling effect on staff and student productivity, writes Zelda Cunningham

With the weight of the perennial rainclouds mirroring the weight of the recession in Ireland, UCD too stands to suffer in the difficult times ahead. A recruitment ban is taking its hold on the university, and is choking the life out of an already dwindling staff and student morale.

However, unlike the screaming pessimism of newspaper headlines, chiming the death knell of the good life the Celtic Tiger has brought us, UCD seems intent in burying its head in the sand rather than confronting the issue.

Despite Chair of the Academic Association, John Dunnion stating that the recruitment ban is very real and spanning over all sectors of the university, the college claims it is simply doing some strategic planning.
Fervent denials aside, if UCD plans to avoid alienating their employees and students, it will have to come clean about what will inevitably become a huge administrative and academic headache for the upcoming weeks, months and potentially years.

The University Observer reported last year that UCD was €15 million in deficit. Considering the absolute necessity of decreasing the deficit while facing a three per cent government cutback in funding for the colleges, students and staff alike are likely to feel the pinch.

Cuts are being called for wherever possible. With the Horizons programme still in its fledgling years, and echoes of the ‘fifty-students-to-a-class’ aspirations still resounding through Belfield, the recruitment ban will undoubtedly tamper with UCD’s national and international reputation as an educational institute.
With tutors and demonstrators being the obvious target for the chopping block, students are likely to feel the brunt of the recruitment ban with immediate effect.

With a student population of over 22,000, the intimate setting of a tutorial provides a welcome break for students from the anonymity of the wider college. With fewer tutors and demonstrators, the class size will undoubtedly expand, harming the valuable learning gained from the discussion classes.

It also must be noted that the centre of the Horizons programme is that students will select to study modules outside their own core subject. Without close contact with tutors, the difficulty of switching between modules may exacerbate students.

Cutbacks appear to be broad and far reaching. Comments from Secretary of UCD SIPTU, Dr Kieran Allen suggest that positions vacated through retirement or re-location, may not be refilled.

Fewer academic staff can only mean in larger class sizes. And such a situation, as uncomfortable and impersonal as it would be for students, could unmanageable for staff.

Onerous correction duties, taking on more and larger classes, and possibly a greater variety of modules could easily push staff to the end of their rapidly fraying tether.

Even UCD President, Dr Hugh Brady would be hard pressed to deny that the introduction of Horizons was a baptism by fire for administration. However, the abundance of staff in school programme offices and in administration kept the Horizons scheme afloat through the choppy waters of its initiation.

The recruitment ban will not simply affect the academic and administrative staff of the university, although this is perhaps where the students will witness the greatest loss. As Registrar, Dr Philip Nolan calls for 12 percent cuts across many areas of the university. All positions in UCD, from library to technology would appear to be as vulnerable as the next.

With staff craning their necks to look to the future of their employment in the university, and students’ malaise being generated through frustration, the recruitment ban stands to rumble and shake UCD.

Repercussions of these cutbacks will not only have affect in the short term. Consequences that will effect the reputation of UCD on a worldwide scale may be the inevitable result of this recruitment ban.

This recruitment ban could very well act as the interjectory pin to the Horizons bubble

Horizons was an inspired movement in UCD. Coming from his post in Harvard, the UCD President aimed to show that the university could strive under the semesterised system and rise to academic esteem.
However, this recruitment ban could very well act as the interjectory pin to the Horizons bubble.

In the words of Mr Dunnion, “belt-tightening” could see certain subjects being cut, giving students fewer choices. Disgruntled students will play it safe in subject choices, not running the risk that their chosen module might run out of staff who will not be replaced.

The essence of Horizons will seemingly be over-powered by cautious penny-pinching, devolving the university into a more conservative institute.

UCD is undoubtedly in dire straits. The university is suffocating in €15 million debt in an era of recession with merciless cost cuttings slicing into all sectors of the college. With no foreseeable source of income coming to the college, a recruitment ban may appear to be one of few options that can keep the university afloat. It may be too late to play the blame game, however students and staff alike must be wondering where exactly did such an exciting institution go wrong, and how much will we suffer before we reach clear waters again.