HEA pressure to repay €6 million

By Frances Mulraney
The Higher Education Authority is to request €6 million in compensation from Irish universities for “unauthorized” allowances given to senior academics.

UCD is the worst offender with an estimated total of €4 million worth of handouts unsanctioned by the HEA or the Department of Education.

The authority board took a tough stance on the issue, although at the moment the figure of €6 million is simply an estimate provided by the universities. The exact figure will be provided once the Comptroller and Auditor General speaks to the board.

The board decided that it was the universities that were to be held liable for these over-payments and not the recipients, with the educational institutions having to make repayments from their own resources.


Fifty per cent of the money paid out without approval will be repaid straight back the HEA, for use in the development of campuses in the future. The HEA board is requesting that the other fifty percent of the overspent money be invested into supporting student services in each of the offending colleges.

This dispute has been ongoing for many months now. One of UCD’s college papers, the College Tribune, reported last January that HEA funding could be withdrawn from UCD if unsanctioned payments weren’t repaid. The trouble arose after a meeting of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee on January 20 of this year.

The strong stand of the board has been met with approval by the Minster for Education Ruairi Quinn, as well as Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.


However, it has been met with disapproval from UCD President, Dr Hugh Brady, who claims that the pressure to repay this money is “inappropriate” and could create legal questions surrounding the issue. He claims that that UCD received no information to suggest that these payments were unsanctioned.

This claim was quickly rebutted by Mr Tom Boland, chief executive of the HEA, who supplied evidence of contact, such as the Public Accounts Committee meeting, made with UCD over the past few years highlighting the unauthorized payments.

The debate arises from allowances approved by the Minister of Education in 2008 to UCC and DCU, after the Governments Review Body Report 43 claimed that allowances should be awarded to senior academics who take on more responsibility than others.

In 2009, other Irish universities, including UCD, wrote to the HEA, requesting that these allowances be extended to cover all universities. Speaking to the College Tribune on the matter last January 2011, two years after the request, a UCD spokesperson stated that no response had yet been received from the HEA.

Mr Brady, also commented in the College Tribune that targeting UCD alone was discriminatory because of these allowances awarded to UCC and DCU.

UCD claims that none of these extra allowances to staff were funded by the exchequer and that it is through incentives such as this that the university has succeeded in raising an additional €50 – €80 million a year since 2007.

This latest news comes just a month after Minister Quinn spoke to the Dáil of the 100 people across seven universities who are earning more than €200,000 a year. Dr Brady is among the university presidents that the Minister has requested take a pay-cut. Currently, none of these presidents have responded to the request.

The HEA announced that they are to undertake a report concerning third level funding before the end of this year. Speaking on Friday, November 4, Labour Party Senator Susan O’Keeffe confirmed that under the Programme for Government there is a commitment to “undertake a full review of the Hunt and OECD reports into third level funding before end of 2011.”


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