Tag: Universities

C&AG probes ‘unlawful payments’ at universities – National News, Frontpage – Independent.ie

THE state spending watchdog has begun an investigation into the “unlawful” payment of millions of euro in allowances to senior university staff, the Irish Independent has learned.

The Comptroller and Auditor General’s (C&AG) office has agreed to a request from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to assess exactly how much was spent on unauthorised payments between 1999 and 2009.

It is understood the investigation will be completed by May.

There has been an ongoing dispute between the HEA — the agency responsible for higher education — and the universities over how much was paid to staff at colleges including UCD, Trinity College, UCC, NUI Galway and the University of Limerick.

The HEA has already told a Public Accounts Committee that it will withhold millions in funding from the universities in a bid to get the money back.

The allowances, including incentives and performance-related bonuses, were originally discovered by the C&AG in 2009

This issue is nowhere near as straightforward as the report suggests. Have a look at here.

Coalition to amend restrictions on third-level recruitment (Irish Times report with added links and commentary) #ecf11

Coalition to amend restrictions on third-level recruitment

SEÁN FLYNN, Education Editor

CONTROVERSIAL NEW rules on recruitment in the higher education sector are to be amended by the Government within weeks.

Officials at the Department of Education and the Department of Enterprise are working on changes to the rules which have brought angry protests from academics.

The revised Employment Control Framework (ECF) introduced by the last government in its final days restricts employment in the sector, even to research posts funded from non-exchequer sources.

The rules have been labelled as “Stalinist” and damaging to Ireland’s research interests by senior academics.

Last week, Martin Shanagher, assistant secretary at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, admitted the framework would penalise research activity. In a confidential memo, he said the rules were introduced before their full implications were considered.

Yesterday, Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton said the Government could not have a system that might restrict research.

In this context his department, along with others, were looking at decisions made by the last administration.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said the Government would welcome constructive suggestions from third level to overcome this problem. But he also said any potential pension liability for the exchequer would also have to be addressed. Within that constraint the Government would entertain creative ideas and suggestions from the higher education sector, he said.

The new framework gives the Higher Education Authority (HEA) more power to scrutinise and approve appointments. It applies not just to core staff but to all staff employed in higher education, whether their posts are funded by the exchequer or not.

In a surprise move, the education authority last night published a lengthy question-and-answer document clarifying aspects of the new framework. In the document, it rejects the charge that its approval is required for the filling of posts.

“Subject to institutional compliance with the terms of the ECF, the approval of the HEA to appointments/promotions is not required in any circumstances,” it says.

“In the case of contract research staff and non-exchequer posts the higher education institutions are requested to inform the HEA in advance of their overall plans to recruit and confirm that funding is in place for the duration of the proposed contracts and that the 20 per cent pension contribution is included in these costs.’’

In recent weeks, senior academics have questioned the legality of the framework and the manner in which it appears to undermine university autonomy.

Trinity College Dublin law professor Eoin O’Dell has published an analysis which points to legal flaws in the document.

A leading candidate in the race to be the next provost of TCD has said he would move to stop the implementation of the framework.

If elected, Prof Colm Kearney said he would seek a court order to restrain the authority from implementing the new rules.

Thanks for the promotion, Sean. I hope that, when the ECF is lifted and Trinity can once again begin promoting its staff, the members of the relevant committee considering my promotion application will have read your flattering promotion of me! :-)

A few background links:

  • One of the strongest critices of the ECF, and a regular user of the label “Stalinist” to describe it, is Ferdinand von Prondzynski: see, eg, here and here.
  • Martin Shanagher’s critique is here.
  • The HEA’s FAQ clarification is here (pdf).
  • And my legal analysis is here.

Matters are moving in the right direction. The ECF is now officially available on the HEA website, and their FAQ is helpful in explaining exactly what they consider its effect to be. Moreover, the signals from the two Ministers are very welcome. But tinkering at the edges of the Framework document will not meet the fundamental objections being raised in univerisities today – objections of principle as to the importance of university autonomy and the proper relationship of the HEA with the secor, objections of practicality as to the unworkability of the Framework, or objections of legality as to its validity. It is too early to consider the war against #ecf11 won. Rather, an important early skirmish has gone the way of the resistance. But there are many more important battles ahead.

These daft Soviet-style controls on universities must be abolished – The Irish Times – Tue, Mar 22, 2011

FERDINAND VON PRONDZYNSKI

LEFTFIELD: If the Government insists that the civil service micro-manages our colleges, it will destroy third level education

It cannot be said loudly enough. This scheme is mad. It is senseless and destructive. It harms Ireland’s recovery. And it must be reversed as a matter of absolute priority.

Brian Cowen’s very big, VERY BAD, idea for the third level sector

Fewer universities with one big brand leader known as the University of Ireland is in the wider national interest

The Irish Times – Fri, Feb 25, 2011

SEÁN FLYNN

EDUCATION: IN THE COURSE of discussions on the University College Dublin-Trinity research alliance two years ago, the Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his advisers had a Very Big Idea. The secret discussions with the two universities had focused on how to build a world-class research capacity in our leading higher education colleges. But some of the Cowen team wanted to go further.

The logical step, they argued, was for a full merger of UCD and Trinity, pooling the best of both in a reshaped institution that would glide onto any list of the best universities in the world.

This is a terrible idea. It presupposes that it is worthwhile chasing international rankings. This quest is ephemeral at best. But even if it is worthwhile, Cowen’s strategy assumes that scrapping a very strong brand (TCD) and an emerging brand (UCD) and replacing them with an entirely new one is the way to do it. And that cannot be right.

Lecturers protest over Croke Park deal – The Irish Times – Mon, Jan 24, 2011

Lecturers protest over Croke Park deal

JOANNE HUNT

MORE THAN 200 university and institute of technology lecturers met in Dublin on Saturday to protest against the implementation of the Croke Park agreement in third-level institutions.

The group, which met in the Gresham Hotel, is seeking to protect the right of academics to permanency and tenure until retirement age. They said this “bedrock on which academic freedom rests” was under threat.

The Croke Park deal, along with the Hunt report on higher education, proposes longer working hours and shorter holidays, tighter management control and performance-related pay.

They also open up the possibility that academics deemed to be substandard by management could be sacked.

 

UCD’s ‘unlawful’ payments now estimated at €6m – The Irish Times – Fri, Jan 21, 2011

UCD MADE unauthorised payments of approximately €6 million to staff that will have to be refunded to the exchequer, the chief executive of the Higher Education Authority has said.

As I said yesterday, the payments may have been unauthorised, but it does not necessarily follow that they will have to be refunded.

UCD refuses to refund €1.6m paid ‘unlawfully’ to staff – The Irish Times – Thu, Jan 20, 2011

UCD IS refusing to refund €1.6 million paid in “unlawful” allowances to senior academic staff despite pressure from the Department of Education, the Department of Finance and the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

It is understood UCD president Dr Hugh Brady has warned the HEA that any attempt to impose a financial sanction on the university may be “illegal, inappropriate and discriminatory”.

A major standoff has now developed between the two sides, despite months of negotiations between the HEA and UCD vice-president Dr Philip Nolan on the issue.

The issue is not straightforward. For example, Prof Steve Hedley (UCC) has argued:

The issue of overpayments to university staff has yet to be resolved. The truth is that neither side is on very firm ground, and if ever the matter were to be litigated, it would almost certainly be necessary to look at each alleged over-payment separately. … The key provision is the Universities Act, 1997, s 25(4), which reads in part:

… there shall be paid by a university to the employees of that university, such remuneration, fees, allowances and expenses as may be approved from time to time by the Minister [for Education and Skills] with the consent of the Minister for Finance.

There does not seem to be much dispute – so far at least – that the university staff in question have been paid rather more than is usually permitted. There are however a number of issues arising, which I group under five heads:

  1. Was there ministerial consent to the payments?
  2. If no, is there any way out of the conclusion that s 25(4) was breached?
  3. If no, were the payments ultra vires (i.e. beyond the legal powers of) the universities?
  4. If the payments were ultra vires, does it follow that individual payees have to refund them?
  5. Whether or not individuals have to re-pay, can the government make a deduction from future block grant payments to the universities?

These are in fact difficult issues, and is by no means clear that all five questions will receive the answers which the HEA assumes.