University chiefs to get advice on cutting costs

THE heads of universities are to be given special advice on how to cut costs as part of the review of spending by Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe.

The minister has revealed consultancy firm Deloitte has already met with the chiefs of institutes of technology to show how Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) cut its payroll costs by €2 million. They met at a workshop last Wednesday, with the consultants offering their services free of charge.

The aim was to see if other ITs could slash their costs in the same way that CIT reduced its payroll bill.

Speaking yesterday at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science, Mr O’Keeffe said Deloitte had approached him with the idea and offered its services on a pro-bono basis.

He said the Higher Education Authority had now been instructed to invite the heads of the universities to a similar workshop with a similar aim of reducing costs.

“I have instructed the HEA to invite the heads of the universities to come in and do likewise. It is well worth looking at,” he said.

Having referred to a previous “light-handed approach” to the use of state money by universities, he told the committee that the strategy group on higher education was examining the overall operational, governance and resourcing framework in the sector, as well as rationalisation.

The HEA is also leading “an urgent and comprehensive efficiency drive” across the higher education sector, he said. The minister also said he was instigating work on establishing a “quality mark” for higher education facilities here, particularly those that cater for foreign students, in a bid to increase revenue from those bodies and to close down bogus universities.

This could also involve students coming to study here at certain facilities being monitored to some degree to ensure they do not disappear into the system.

In a statement, CIT denied that the cost-cutting measures had led to anger among members of staff, claiming “any changes have been achieved with their co-operation”.

The measures discussed with Deloitte included reductions in delivery time and the restructuring of all programmes into a modular system. “All changes went through an academic validation process, mindful to maintain quality of courses and graduates,” the statement said.

The committee also heard that the Comptroller and Auditor General’s Office is to carry out a “scoping report” on the use of money by third-level institutions ahead of a full audit.

Work is also continuing on the rationalisation and condensing of some courses, and the possibility of Dublin Institute of Technology settling on a single campus in Grangegorman.

A memo will also be sent to government regarding an amalgamation of HETAC, FETAC and NQAI, while a public consultation process on the matter is also likely.

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