Universities may have to repay €20m in allowances

UNIVERSITIES could be forced to pay back up to €20 million in unauthorised allowances which were paid without Government approval to senior staff despite their calls for the reintroduction of fees for students.

It’s also emerged the total pension fund of universities has liabilities of €2.15 billion, even though a huge number of academic staff were recently allowed to retire on enhanced pensions.

Student representatives last night said they should not suffer as a result of “extravagant and reckless” payments by presidents who “simultaneously called for the reintroduction of college tuition fees”.

The Dáil’s Public Account’s Committee (PAC) heard how allowances, amounting to around €1m a year per university were paid to senior staff without sanction by the Department of Education and in breach of the Universities Act.

The department does not know how much taxpayers’ money went to these lavish allowances. But committee members, who demanded to be given the figures, estimated it could amount to around €5m per year for all universities.

In the country’s biggest university, UCD, over €1m was paid to management between October 2006 and September 2007.

UCD president Hugh Brady said his college was never informed by the Department of Education or the Higher Education Authority (HEA) that the payments were not allowed.

“We disclosed all the allowances going back to 1999. There was never an objection and they never said ‘stop paying these’ until 2007 when we did stop all new allowances,” he said.

This was disputed by the HEA, which said concerns were raised as far back as 2001. The Department of Finance believed these payments had stopped back in 2001 and said it would be considering a “retrospective sanction” for them.


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