Colleges spent €150m on private consultants’ fees over six years

University of Limerick hired private consultants to deal with 28 internal complaints and inquiries

Institutes of higher education are relying increasingly on private consultants for expertise, with colleges spending €150 million hiring outside firms over the past six years, according to analysis from the Higher Education Authority.

Universities have spent €104 million on private reports and legal fees since 2011, and institutes of technology (IoTs) spent a further €48 million, according to the review carried out for the Dáil Public Accounts Committee and published this week.

Across the seven universities, spending on consultants and legal fees have gone up from €11 million a year in 2011 to €19.4 million last year, an increase of 70 per cent.

Trinity College Dublin spent €30.6 million over the six-year period, the most of any of the universities. The college’s spending on private firms increased from €2.6 million in 2011 to €7.1 million last year.


University of Limerick spent €20.8 million over the six years hiring private consultants and law firms; Maynooth University spent €17.3 million; and University College Cork spent €13 million.

Cork Institute of Technology spent the fifth most on consultancy and legal fees at €11.2m, more than three of the universities. CIT spending on consultants and lawyers made up a fifth of the total spend across the entire IoT sector. Dublin City University’s spending on consultants doubled over the period from €865,771 in 2011 to €1.7m last year.

The fees to private firms may relate to consultancy work carried out on construction projects, strategy, internal auditing, research projects, and legal work.

Staff complaints
The HEA found more than 120 cases where colleges had brought in private firms to conduct internal investigations or review staff complaints. University of Limerick alone used private firms to carry out 28 internal reviews, of which the majority related to staff complaints.

Meanwhile, Galway-Mayo IT spent €281,166 hiring two external investigators to examine an incident of alleged plagiarism by a student.

At the University of Limerick, an independent inquiry is taking place into allegations of misconduct, focusing on human resources and financial practices at the college. The review, which followed several protected disclosure reports from staff, was launched by the Department of Education and the HEA last May.

Seán Fleming TD, chairman of the PAC, said he was "taken aback" by the amount of fees paid to private firms by colleges. He said the public spending watchdog would be coming back to question the figures, and would revisit the issue with the HEA and the Department of Education.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane, who had been pushing the issue at the committee, said the figures showed a worrying "cavalier" approach to hiring private consultants across the higher education sector.

“This is taxpayers’ money, and parents are forking out more money for college fees. I think we have to ensure we’re getting value for money here,” he said.

The HEA report outlined that of the €150m, legal firm Arthur Cox was paid €13m from colleges and institutes of technology over the six years. Auditors Deloitte were paid €10m in consultancy fees, the most out of the main financial consulting firms.

Colleges spending on consultants and legal firms from 2011 to 2017
Trinity College Dublin: €30.6m
University of Limerick: €20.8m
Maynooth University: €17.3m
University College Cork: €13m
Cork Institute of Technology: €11.2m

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times