Teacher's Pet

 

An insider’s guide to education

- That bitter rowabout those unauthorised allowances paid to senior staff at UCD and three other universities is still the talk of the education sector. Fine Gael’s new education spokesman, Fergus O’Dowd, went to the heart of the matter in the Dáil last week.

Is it not a fact, he asked, that “the Department of Education and Skills, and the Higher Education Authority, has known about this issue going back to 1997? Is it not a fact that the Comptroller and Auditor General’s special report into this matter makes that exceptionally clear? Is it not a fact also that successive ministers for education have refused to deal with this issue?’’

In a largely unreported response, junior minister Seán Haughey delivered a stinging rebuke to the colleges, of a kind which is unprecedented in recent history. The universities in question, he said “should be ashamed of themselves. With autonomy comes responsibility and it is not too much to expect that highly-paid senior management in our third-level institutions adhere to the law without having to be constantly supervised.’’

Ouch!

- And still moregrief for college presidents from broadcaster George Hook (pictured). Debating in UCC last week he made this observation: “They think they are Multinational CEO’s, but they are really jumped up school principals.’’ Their big salaries, he suggests, should be halved to reflect this reality.

Michael Kelly, the chairman of the Higher Education Authority (HEA), took charge of his final authority meeting two weeks ago.

Kelly, the former secretary general at the Department of Health, was parachuted into the post in 2005 after the publication of the Travers Report on illegal nursing-home charges. Kelly and former minister for Education and Science Micheál Martin were not ad idemon the background to the controversy.

At the time, the Union of Students in Ireland questioned the appointment asking whether it happened because “the Government needed a space to put Mr Kelly into”.

A former member of the HEA, Barry O’Brien from the College of Surgeons, resigned in protest at the manner of the appointment.

Before Kelly’s appointment, the HEA and the department had supported a part-time executive chairman. Kelly did a decent job at the HEA but his parachute certainly proved expensive for the taxpayer. On his transfer to the HEA, he received the full secretary general salary of €166,000. Speculation is under way about a possible successor for the now part-time post worth €76,000. The former EU Commissioner, Peter Sutherland, is the obvious candidate, but those old Fine Gael connections still appear to count against him.

Incidentally, does the HEA need a chief executive (Tom Boland who earns €145,000) and a chairman? The 2004 OECD report said there is no case for the two lofty – and very well paid – positions.

- Got any educationgossip? teacherspet@irishtimes.com