At a recent meeting of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, universities were accused of acting “unlawfully” and “illegally” in making unauthorised payments to staff.
Dr. Hugh Brady, president of University College Dublin was singled out for special castigation. UCD has paid almost €1.6 million in unauthorised allowances to senior staff over a ten year period. Between the years 2004 and 2007 Brady personally took home bonuses totalling €150,000 on top of his officially sanctioned salary of €227,000 per year.
Brady attempted to defend the unauthorised payments by claiming that they had a “long history” and that similar payments are made to principals in primary and secondary schools for added management duties and that they are the norm internationally. He also claimed that UCD had not received any detailed instruction that the payment were not authorised.
This last claim was rejected by the chief executive of the Higher Education Authority (HEA), Tom Boland. Boland cited a series of letters and other contact between the two institutions in contradicting Brady’s claim. He said the HEA had indicated to the universities that the unauthorised allowances should not be paid as far back as 2001.
When criticised for the HEA’s apparent lack of delay in addressing the issue of the unlawful payments, Boland defended the authority stating that it had acted on the reasonable assumption that universities were acting within the law.
Since his appointment in 2003 Brady, who has been dubbed by some as “the Michael O’Leary of Irish education” has come under fire from some quarters for running a pro-business agenda at UCD at the expense of arts and humanities. In more recent times however he has attracted criticism from students in particular for creating a top-heavy bureaucracy (UCD has thirteen vice presidents) on extremely high salaries while simultaneously calling for the reintroduction of university fees. A move, which if implemented would undoubtedly cause increased hardship for many families across the country as well as disincentivising many young people from pursuing higher education.
News of the unsanctioned bonuses has caused anger and disbelief among many students. Recently Brady described Irish universities as “cash starved” and blamed lack of funding for UCD’s recent plummet of 25 places in the QS World University Rankings. While Irish universities are indeed underinvested in, many will question whether someone in receipt of such a bloated salary is really in a position to tell students and their families that it is they who should be contributing more to the much needed investment.
While UCD was the worst offender, other universities were also found to have to have appropriated unauthorised bonuses. At NUI Galway an additional €400,000 was shared between the university’s president, deputy president, registrar and bursar over a seven year period. University College Cork also paid over €150,000 in unauthorised bonuses to management and in 2007-8 the University of Limerick paid the presidential salary to three people at the same time. At a time when vital services for students are being cut back across the country, many will undoubtedly question whether the limited funds available to Irish universities are being distributed in an appropriate and fair way.