Students to benefit from €7m university penalties

Dublin City University

Students are getting extra supports and improved facilities, as universities pay the price for previous unauthorised top-ups of more than €7m to senior staff.

Half the value of overpayments to more than 200 managers, researchers, and academics between 2005 and 2011, has been held back from the colleges by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) since earlier this year.

The deductions are being made across five years in six universities, while Dublin City University took the entire hit this year. Its unauthorised allowances at €53,000 were the lowest, while the figures were almost €3.3m at University College Dublin and more than €1.6m at University College Cork.

It was decided last year that half the money, around €3.6m, could still be given to universities on condition that they direct it to student-related activities.

UCD Students’ Union said an agreement with management on €310,000 for student services saw over €87,000 spent in the past financial year, €31,000 of it for additional student counselling. A further €152,000 will be spent this academic year, with a peer support service promoting positive mental health among the initiatives being funded.

UCC said €160,000 a year for five years will go toward maintaining provision across clubs and societies, which form a central part of the student experience.

Trinity College Dublin has already set aside part of the €603,790 earmarked for student services to increase capacity for 24-hour study, with extra library attendants provided during last summer’s exams and a 24-hour study space at the Ussher Library. A proposal for the rest of the funding is nearing completion, after talks between management and student representatives.

NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, and the University of Limerick were also subject to review.

The HEA said other areas being supported by universities include scholarships, sports facility upgrades, and student centre facilities.

Controversy about the overpayments has played out at numerous hearings of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee since 2011, where some university bosses insisted they had autonomy to make payments over and above normal salary scales. But the HEA has been telling some since 2001 that any such allowances can only be paid if authorised by the education minister.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn announced in Oct 2012 he would introduce law explicitly requiring universities to comply with government guidelines on pay, allowances, pensions, and staff numbers. The universities oppose the plan, claiming it will contravene their right to autonomy.

HEA chairman John Hennessy has said colleges deserve more freedom to hire staff and set pay levels, but also more freedom to fire those who do not meet standards, all in return for more accountability.

Funding deductions

The amounts being deducted from core state funding:

* University College Dublin: €328,000 a year for five years (giving a reduced 2013 budget of €64.67m).

* University College Cork: €168,000 a year for five years (2013 budget: €44.53m).

* Trinity College Dublin: €121,000 a year for five years (2013 budget: €48.96m).

* NUI Galway: €51,000 a year for five years (2013 budget €41.33m).

* University of Limerick: €33,000 a year for five years (2013 budget: €27.95m).

* NUI Maynooth: €7,000 a year for five years (2013 budget: €20.2m).

* Dublin City University: one-off €26,854 reduction, making its 2013 budget €20.28m.


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