Universities to be allowed to hire staff on up to €250,000

Move means senior academics will be on salaries higher than the Taoiseach’s

University College Dublin: New Government measures are aimed at attracting top academic talent to Irish universities from third-level colleges in the UK and elsewhere. Photograph: Alan Betson

University College Dublin: New Government measures are aimed at attracting top academic talent to Irish universities from third-level colleges in the UK and elsewhere. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Universities are to be allowed to hire staff on salaries higher than the Taoiseach’s under new measures aimed at attracting top talent to the third-level sector.

The Government recently agreed that pay restrictions should be lifted to allow colleges hire world-leading scientists and engineers on salaries of up to €250,000.

The move is aimed at attracting top academic talent from universities in the UK and elsewhere in light of the uncertainty caused by Brexit.

The move is likely to put pressure on the Government to increase salary limits for senior public servants such as members of the judiciary, gardaí and secretaries general of Government departments.

Under strict public sector pay rules, public sector employees may not earn more than the Taoiseach’s €190,000 salary. However, there is speculation that a salary of up to €300,000 is being considered for the next Garda commissioner.

Universities say they are facing major difficulties attracting top academics under public sector pay rates and have argued for the limits to be increased.

World-leading researchers

In a statement, the Department of Education confirmed a “special derogation” had recently been approved to help universities hire world-leading researchers. It said pay caps were acting as a barrier to attracting “exceptional academics” to Ireland.

While the move may lead to pressure to increase salary limits for other public servants, the department said top academic appointments will be limited to lucrative research projects funded by Science Foundation Ireland, a State body.

This will allow for the recruitment of up to 10 research professors at any one time in targeted areas of economic importance such as science, technology, engineering and maths.

While research projects will be funded by Science Foundation Ireland, it is understood the salaries of any scientists or engineers recruited will be paid for by third-level colleges themselves. This is likely to make it more difficult for the Government to argue they are ring-fenced appointments.

It is understood at least one university is in the process of hiring a key staff member under this change in policy which was formalised in recent times, according to sources. The decision to give colleges greater freedom to pay more for top-level appointments marks a significant shift in policy.

The past decade has seen greater controls placed on universities over their salaries and the number of appointments, even at a time of reduced State funding.

Greater leeway

However, universities argue they should be give greater leeway now that many of them generate the bulk of their income privately.

While there are difficulties hiring top talent, average salaries for professors in Irish universities remain very generous by international standards.

These grades range between €101,000 and €136,000, depending on the point of the scale a professor is on. This is more than average salaries for professors in countries with some of the best universities in the world, such as the UK and US.

While salaries in Ireland are capped, there is scope to provide for exceptions under a process known as the “departures framework”.

Latest figures show there are at least 17 staff working in universities on salaries of €140,000 or more which were authorised by the Government.

While more than 60 staff across higher education institutions earn more than €200,000, the vast bulk of these are academic medical consultants whose salaries are paid by the HSE.