University staff overpaid by €8.1m, HEA review finds

6 Jun 2012

A report from the Comptroller and Auditor General reveals the results of the Higher Education Authority (HEA)’s review of excess remuneration, and discrepancies in the financial management of third-level institutions.

The latest report from the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General deals with a number of matters arising out of audits conducted in the education sector, including an update on certain remuneration and accountability issues raised in a previous special report from September 2010.

This earlier report first brought to attention the fact that excess remuneration payments had been made over an extended period to certain staff members in Ireland’s seven universities. This led to a review by the HEA, which shows that payments to senior university staff from June 2005 to February 2011 were gross €8.1m in excess of rates approved by the Minister for Education and Skills.

University College Dublin accounted for most of this overspending, paying out €3.61m in excess – more than double what University College Cork and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) were held accountable for, paying out €1.64m and €1.5m respectively.

Some cases of overpayment, where the university has claimed uncertainty about the approved level of remuneration, are being examined individually. The final tally of overpayment will not be clear until these cases are resolved, but, whatever the figure, the HEA intends to recoup it through grant reductions and restrictions on funding.

Poor financial management at WIT

The report from the Comptroller and Auditor General also highlights a number of issues with regard to the management of finance in Irish third-level institutions.

For example, from 2005, university staff adopted a pay-as-you-go model pension scheme. Typically, under such schemes, employer contributions are not made, however, the HEA continue to pay an additional 15pc of salary costs.

The auditors also found that, while universities are compliant in producing consolidated financial statements that account for their subsidiary companies, some institutes of technology do not follow suit.

One such institution named in the report is Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), and this is not the only area in which the institute of technology has faltered. The report also cites a number of breaches of procedure in relation to transactions administered through the president’s office, including expenses of €18,452 for flowers and more than €3,000 spent on gifts.

However, the report deemed that appropriate measures have been taken by WIT, the HEA and the department since these matters came to light and the issue was laid to rest there.

Issues in Dublin universities

WIT is not alone in the doghouse, though, with TCD joining it for having broken the Employment Control Framework, which was introduced in July 2009 to reduce staff numbers in the sector. The scheme was successful in cutting down numbers more than 7pc, but TCD breached the terms when 27 academic staff members were promoted in January 2011.

Accounts from DCU showed that three of its subsidiary companies suffered significant financial losses by September 2009, two of which – the Helix and Tony Ryan Academy – were bailed out by the university with contributions totalling €9.8m. The third subsidiary, Invent DCU, suffered a shortfall when only two of its five patrons paid up for its funding and DCU has now committed to providing €100,000 per year for 19 years to the innovation and enterprise centre.

University finance image via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke was editor of Silicon Republic until 2023, and is now the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. Elaine joined Silicon Republic in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs. She later served as managing editor before stepping up as editor in 2019. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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