College work week as short as 15 hours, says Shortall


ACADEMICS' WORKLOAD:SOME ACADEMICS in Irish universities could be working as few as 15 hours every week, the Dáil public accounts committee heard yesterday.

The figure, extrapolated by Labour Party deputy Róisín Shortall, was based on a formula put forward at the committee by Ned Costello, chief executive of the Irish Universities Association.

The committee heard from the heads of Ireland’s six universities yesterday as well as from representatives from the Irish Universities Association, the Higher Education Authority and the Departments of Education and of Finance.

Mr Costello said academic staff spent 40 per cent of their time on research, 40 per cent on teaching and 20 per cent on contribution work, but did not have minimum working hours.

“It is not factory work,” he said.

President of UCC, Dr Michael Murphy, said a study of teaching hours carried out there found academic staff had spent 180 hours lecturing in a working year, or six hours per week.

Ms Shortall said that, based on Mr Costello’s formula, staff would work a 15-hour week. She said the matter was of considerable concern to parents and was dispiriting for students who expected to be challenged at university, but were finding themselves with only six or eight hours of lectures a week.

Dr Murphy said Ms Shortall was not taking into account the hours required to prepare for lectures. And Prof John Hughes, president of NUI Maynooth, said he believed the average academic was working 59 hours per week.

Dr James Browne, president of NUI Galway, said six hours of lecturing per week was comparable to universities in the UK and US. Academics took total responsibility for the planning, design, delivery and assessment of the courses they taught, he said.

Tom Boland, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, said he believed human resources in Irish universities were well utilised, but there should be more transparency.

The committee also heard universities had a pensions deficit of €790 million, transferred to the State earlier this year as part of a scheme to help deal with the shortfall. The committee questioned the universities about pension top-ups that allowed them add up to 10 years to service when calculating staff pension entitlements.

Prof John Hegarty, provost of TCD, said the pension scheme there was established in 1972 when “it was a different world”. Newer employees were in a different scheme.

The committee was also told of “unique, exceptional and very challenging circumstances” at the University of Limerick that resulted in three people being paid the rate for president there at the same time. Prof Don Barry, current president, said the two previous presidents were being paid at the same rate. Prof Roger Downer was receiving the payment from the UL Foundation, not the taxpayer, partly so he could continue to work with donors to the college.

Prof John O’Connor, acting president from 2006 to May 2007, was getting the payment for continuing to work on a three-day week basis when Prof Barry took over.