Colleges to face fines if accounts not shown

Managers of colleges which fail to give up-to-date accounts or explain how much money they have in private trusts and foundations by the next budget should be hit with significant financial penalties and fines.

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee made the recommendation at the launch of its damning report into the sector’s secret finances yesterday, saying options could include cuts or blocking of board of governor salaries.

The 64-page PAC report was drawn up in response to months of meetings with UCC, Cork IT, Dublin IT, University of Limerick, Dundalk IT, and Waterford Institute of Technology since the start of the year.

While the facilities were chosen at random, serious concerns were highlighted over all of their finances, with the PAC of the view the issues are being repeated in other colleges and universities across the country.

The PAC has raised particular concerns about the failure by some facilities to publish audited accounts for up to 35 months and for others to provide no details whatsoever on how much money they have in private trusts and foundations which are believed to hold tens of millions of euro.

And in response to the specific issues, the PAC has called for “penalties” to be imposed on any college or university which fails to act.

In a key report recommendation, the PAC says “penalties in relation to funding should be implemented by the Higher Education Authority where institutions fail to present accounts within six months of the financial year end”.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner at the report’s launch, PAC chair and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming said this should include a specific focus on fines and penalties being imposed on the boards of governors of the institutions in order to limit any impact on students innocent of any questionable actions.

In response to the concerns — and other issues including multi-million euro commercial conflicts of interest, a failure to comply with national tender rules for contracts, and an inability to protect whistle-blowers who highlight concerns — the PAC report has made a series of further recommendations.

They include:

  • The need for the Higher Education Authority to “put a system in place to monitor research and administration resources by taxpayers which are consumed by institutions in developing commercial intellectual property projects” to ensure money is not being misspent;
  • A commitment that colleges and universities report “annually to the HEA” on commercial conflicts of interest;
  • The need for the Department of Education to outline a specific timeline for when reforms should be imposed;
  • And concerns over the fact numerous colleges misled the PAC over the situation.

Education Minister Richard Bruton last night welcomed the PAC report and said it will be considered over the coming weeks.

The Irish Federation of University Teachers’ general secretary, Mike Jennings, said the PAC findings show the sector’s management is riddled with “banana republic” behaviour at a time when resources are already over-stretched.

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