Heavy Hitters


Michael Murphy, president UCC

He’s the highest paid university head in Ireland. Its a stat that has been used as a stick to beat him. Dr Michael Murphy has implemented some unpopular austerity measures at the Cork university. Students may regard his moves to cut corners as difficult to accept in light of his €232,000 annual salary, but Murphy has been a gamechanger at UCC.

When he took over in 2007, the college was riddled with rancour surrounding the controversial presidency of Prof Gerry Wrixon. Industrial relations turmoil and heavy debt characterised the early days of Murphys presidency. He moved a heavyweight team in with him and raised the salary bar at UCC.

Now UCC is creeping up on the inside. It was named Irelands first five-star university this year and was the only Irish university to improve its position in the QS World University Rankings, rising 181th place from 184 the previous year. It was ranked 386th when Murphy took over.

Murphy has put himself at the centre of public discourse in higher education, drawing heat this year when he called for the swift return of university fees.

He also publicly opposed the research alliance between UCD and Trinity, claiming the merger would corner national research funding.

Murphy is a graduate of UCCs medical school and was appointed head of the college of medicine and health in 2006. There he managed a programme of expansion and capital investment worth €120 million.

Murphy is one of a growing club of university heads with medical backgrounds; UCDs Hugh Brady and NUI Maynooths Phillip Nolan are also medically trained.

His earning potential as a medical consultant is one of the reasons cited for his high salary.

Prof Dermot Kelleher Head of Trinity’s medical school and vice president of medical affairs at the university. He is also professor of clinical medicine at St Jamess Hospital

At €250,000, he’s one of the top academic earners in the country.

Kelleher embodies the argument that universities make for big salaries – he’s an international heavy-hitter with a global profile in research. His list of research interests spans a couple of hundred headings from Adinocarcenoma to Van Willebrand’s disease.

His work has been published in Nature Immunology, Nature Genetics, Journal of Experimental Medicineand the Journal of Biological Chemistry and Gastroenterology.

Like an increasing number of medics taking up managerial roles in academia, Kelleher could command an enormous salary in medical consultancy.

He also has a track record in business. He’s a co-founder of Opsona Therapeutics, a major success story for Trinity and Ireland.

Opsona is a drug development company specialising in the human immune system and developing drugs and vaccines to prevent and treat autoimmune diseases, inflammatory conditions, cancers and infectious diseases.

Hes also a director of Icon plc – another Irish company in the pharmaceutical sphere which now employs over 8,000 people across the globe.

Thanks to people like Kelleher and his TCD colleague Luke ONeill, Ireland is now a serious global competitor in immunology research.

Those who would defend his salary say that Kelleher has built a powerful and nimble research infrastructure in the Trinity Medical School and attracted massive research funding from Science Foundation Ireland, the Health Research Board and the Wellcome Trust.

As Kelleher himself says of his research centre; There is very little now that we cannot do.

Prof John Boland, director of Crann

Despite being one of the highest paid and most respected academics in Trinity College, Boland struggled to attract support when he ran for the position of Provost in Trinity College earlier this year. His late entry to the race and heavy commitments as director of the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (Crann) limited his ability to complete on level terms.

His research credentials, record of achievement, and sheer enthusiasm is impressive. A founding member of Crann, Boland has been instrumental in building one of the world’s top five institutes for nanoscience – one of the exciting and globally transformative areas of contemporary science. He was also a key figure in the establishment of the Science Gallery in 2008.

Prof Des Fitzgerald, vice-president for research, UCD

UCD Prof Des Fitzgerald attracts significant attention as the highest paid academic in the State, but today’s list shows that Boland’s pay and stature is not far behind. Boland holds a bachelor of science in chemistry from UCD and a PhD in physical chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. He taught in the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill until 2002. He also worked at IBMs Research Centre in New York for 10 years.

An award-winning teacher with a strong international track record on scholarship, Boland is currently a Science Foundation of Ireland Professor of Chemistry.

He says the level, volume and quality of scientific research emerging from Ireland in the past 20 years has transformed the country, and that it is vital for Ireland to attract and retain world-class researchers. He is a keen advocate of building links between science and industry, and has proven how Crann can be useful for business.

Fitzgerald is one of the heavy hitters in the Irish university sector.

The highly successful Prof of Molecular Medicine was poached by UCD from the Royal College of Surgeons. In 2009, his €409,000 pay packet was cut to €263,000.

Observers note that Fitzgerald could earn multiples of his salary overseas.

Salaries such as Fitzgeralds, sanctioned by the Higher Education Authority under a special Framework Departure to attract top international talent, are unlikely to be repeated, according to one university insider.

In a heavily indebted university where recent cuts to support staff have left lecturers in the lurch when basic equipment breaks down, his high salary raises eyebrows. Fitzgeralds supporters say his presence in UCD has led to a tripling of the universitys research income, and that he has paid for his own salary several times over.

Fitzgerald performed creditably in the election for Provost of Trinity College earlier this year, where he made a huge impression on college staff.

He is an early front runner in the race to succeed Hugh Brady as UCD president in two years’ time.

Earlier this year, Fitzgerald’s peers ranked him as one of the 30 most influential people in Irish education. Last March, Fitzgerald called on the Minister for Education to rescind recent restrictions on third-level colleges, arguing that the universities were facing a “ruinous period as good work in the colleges was being undone by State policies”.

He also criticised a budgetary measure (later modified ) which prohibited universities from employing new staff, even if the funding came from non-exchequer sources.