Colleges topped up pay and pensions

 

IRISH UNIVERSITIES regularly boosted staff salaries and topped up pensions without official sanction, an investigation by the Comptroller and Auditor General has established.

Hundreds of senior staff in the seven universities were paid at levels over the maximum allowed, or were paid allowances or performance-related bonuses for which official approval had not been obtained, according to the report published yesterday by comptroller John Buckley.

At UCD, hundreds of staff received unsanctioned payments, the report on resource management and performance at Irish universities indicates.

While the report says that the colleges are taking steps to bring an end to these extra payments, in most cases no action has been taken to recover monies paid.

The chairman of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, Bernard Allen TD, said the report highlighted fundamental questions about the running of the universities. He said members would meet to discuss the findings next week, in particular the contracts between colleges and their staff.

“The committee will be asking hard questions about how these contracts are monitored so that the required minimum contact time with students is achieved, that research work is being carried out and that any private consultancy work undertaken is fully disclosed and costed.”

Mr Buckley looked at almost 200 appointments in UCD in 2007/08 and found that no one was appointed on the first point of the salary scale and almost 70 per cent of candidates were appointed above the third point on the scale.

Defending the payment of allowances, UCD said the posts comprised a critical management layer in the university, and were an important component in generating non-exchequer income.

It said all the senior allowances had been terminated or were in the process of being terminated, but added that legal and industrial relations issues were likely to flow from this cessation.

According to Mr Buckley’s investigation, 78 per cent of UCD staff retiring between October 2007 and September 2008 had years added to their service for pension purposes.

The 42 employees involved had an average of 4.2 years added to their service.

The Higher Education Authority repeatedly warned the college that salaries approved by the review body should not be exceeded without prior approval of the Minister, the report revealed.

University staff are allowed engage in consultancy work up to a specified percentage of their working time, usually 20 per cent. The report called for further information-gathering to capture the time associated with this activity and the commercial value of the consultancy carried out.

Examining the practice of topping up pensions of retiring university staff, it said the Attorney General had advised that in certain instances the provision of added years may have become entitlements through commitments given to staff by universities.

The report is critical of the “considerable delay” in generating cost data for universities. It says the process of introducing a full economic costs model for universities had been delayed because some staff did not file the details required. Filling in the form involved is not mandatory. In the absence of this information, the data available so far is unreliable, it says.

The full economic cost of student services cannot be calculated because there is insufficient information in the financial statements of the third-level colleges. Because of this, the report was unable to determine the extent to which income raised through student service charges covers the cost of services provided to students.

Staff salaries in the universities cost the exchequer just over €1 billion in the academic year 2007/08. The total number of students was 186,000 in 2008.