One of the highest paid, Prof John Hughes, president of National University of Ireland Maynooth, said he had no problem with taking a pay cut. With pay and expenses last year of €254,000, he was listed as the seventh-highest paid university chief.
Five of the six highest earners were University College Dublin staff, with vice-president for research Prof Des Fitzgerald reported to have received more than €400,000 last year.
A UCD spokesperson said it has openly reported the remuneration of all its staff to the Higher Education Authority at all times, but that the university does not discuss any individual cases outside that reporting relationship.
The highest paid university president, University College Cork’s Dr Michael Murphy, received pay and expenses of €275,000, followed by Prof Hughes and Dr James Browne of NUI Galway, who had the eighth-highest pay and expenses of €253,000.
They were followed by Dublin City University president Prof Ferdinand von Prondzynski on €240,000 (10th), University College Dublin president Dr Hugh Brady on €233,000 (12th) and Trinity College Dublin provost Dr John Hegarty who received pay and expenses of €221,000 last year.
Mr O’Keeffe was asked about the salaries and other pay for the university leaders yesterday and said the higher salaries were allowed to enable colleges to recruit or retain top professors, research leaders and managers.
“I am aware of these payments and I know the Higher Education Authority are investigating the appropriateness of those payments,” the minister said.
“I obviously would feel that those on that kind of salary would take the appropriate action just like secretary generals have taken within the [Government] departments, given that they are aligned to them. I’m not sure they have done that yet, but obviously we would exhort them in those circumstances to take such a pay cut,” he said.
The Irish Universities Association, which represents the seven university presidents, said it would be seeking clarification of the minister’s comments from the department. The presidents’ salaries are set by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration, which recommended in 2007 that they receive salary increases of between 14% and 30%.
Figures obtained last year by the Irish Federation of University Teachers showed that 29 university bosses were being paid above agreed salary scales under the scheme being reviewed by the authority.
“I’d like to see some sort of demonstration that these people were actually up to the job and were not just getting bonuses for jobs they were supposed to be doing anyway,” said IFUT general secretary Mike Jennings.