University pay levels 'unsanctioned'

 

Irish universities regularly boosted staff salaries and 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 today by comptroller John Buckley.

At UCD alone, hundreds of staff from the university president down were in receipt of unsanctioned payments, the report on resource management and performance at Irish universities indicates.

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

The report notes that in UCD, new appointees were often paid at various points on the salary scale, above the minimum starting point. Mr Buckley called for clarification of this issue, and of the definition of total remuneration, in particular whether recourse to trust funds is permissible.

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

The report also examines the practice of adding years to the pensions of retiring university staff. It says that in the colleges, there is some doubt about the extent to which some additional payments resulting from awards of added years have become de facto entitlements of the staff.

“The Attorney General has advised that in certain instances they may have become entitlements through statement made or commitments given to staff by universities. The Department [of Education] has indicated that work is under way to identify all sets of circumstances where de facto entitlement exists.”

The report says the process of introducing a full economic cost model of allocating university costs has been delayed by the fact that some staff do not file the details required because filling the form involved is not mandatory. In the absence of this information, the data available so far is unreliable, it says.

Staff salaries in the universities cost the Exchequer just over €1 billion in the academic year 2007/08.