An academic bonus?

Right now the word ‘bonus’ – when applied to special payments that supplement salary – has become a dirty word, suggesting greed and abuse by corporate managers at times when their organisations are failing and people are losing their jobs. So it may seem counter-intuitive for higher education institutions to experiment with bonus payments at this time – but that is what has been done at Kent State University in Ohio. Apparently 820 academics are due to get bonuses of around $2,500 based on progress the university has made in student retention, research income and philanthropic fundraising.

These bonuses are not, however, comparable with discredited practices in the financial world – they are not strictly performance-based; they could perhaps more accurately be described as a kind of profit sharing scheme, whereby a better than expected performance by the university is reflected in one-off increased payments to staff. The university has implied that the existence of the bonus system has incentivised staff to work harder and that it has contributed to improved results. Others are more sceptical, and suggest that while the bonus will be welcome by recipients, it is hard to see how it made any contribution to performance.

In Ireland none of this is possible under our tightly controlled pay frameworks. Nevertheless, as these come under scrutiny and are analysed to assess whether they are fit-for-purpose, one question we might at least ask is whether pay could, in whatever way, be used more deliberately to motivate and encourage staff and thereby improve institutional performance, assuming that such payments are available to a wider body of staff and are paid in a transparent manner. It is at any rate worth asking the question.

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4 Comments on “An academic bonus?”

  1. Donal_C Says:

    I know of quite a few schools that award bonuses for research published in prestigious journals. The size of the bonus is related to the rank of the journal and the number of authors on the paper. Academics receive additional payments if their research is highlighted in the press or other media. In the cases I’m familiar with, the policies are fairly transparent because the journals are specified in advance.

  2. Joseph Says:

    How elitist of you! Next thing you know you’ll tell us other universities pay academics different salaries from each other based upon market demands and committee-evaluated quality and academics have parking places so they don’t waste enormous amounts of time everyday struggling to find a spot amongst the Golf-driving freshmen!

  3. Jilly Says:

    Before we start considering the possible benefits of bonuses (performance-related or otherwise) in academia, I think we still need to stress the fact that we in the public sector don’t already receive them, and never did, even through the ‘boom’ years.

    At a pre-Christmas drinks party 5 years ago, I had to spend quite a long time explaining to a shocked friend of mine from the private sector that no, I wasn’t going to be getting a Christmas bonus. These may well not happen in the private sector this year, but amid all the claims of public sector cosiness at the moment, it might be worth emphasising that those Christmas bonuses (frequently a month’s salary) so many in the private sector took for granted over the last decade or so were never part of our employment experience. Well worth bringing up next time our apparently wonderful pension arrangements are being discussed…


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