Repayment of allowances

For readers not familiar with recent events in Irish higher education, this is a short summary of one particular development that has prompted a lot of commentary. Over a period of a few years, University College Dublin (UCD) paid allowances and bonuses to a number of senior staff, mainly as a form of incentive payment. Under current rules applying to universities, such payments – i.e. any payments departing from the established public service pay scales to which university salaries are tied – require government approval. The payments in question were made without any such approval, and after lengthy discussions between the Higher Education Authority and UCD the payments were discontinued. The whole thing received some recent attention before the Dail Public Accounts Committee and in an account prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

According to media reports, as part of the follow-up to all this, there are now talks between the HEA and UCD about a repayment to the HEA by the university of these allowances, which apparently came to a total of €1.6 million.

To be perfectly honest, I cannot get my head around this at all. Let us assume that the HEA and the government (and many commentators) are right, and the payments should never have been made. If you adopt that position, then you are saying that €1.6 million that should have been spent on students were in fact spent on allowances for managers. Now that a ‘remedy’ is being discussed, it seems to consist of the HEA requiring a ‘repayment’ of the sum – not by those who received them, but out of general university funds – thereby depriving students of this amount all over again. in other words, if damage was done to student interests, the HEA is insisting that this damage should be doubled. Maybe I’m missing something, but to me this seems bizarre.

I might also add the following. In my time In DCU I made sure that we abided by the rules (which was not always a popular position then), and indeed DCU received no criticism at the PAC meting. I took that position so as not to expose DCU to the kind of controversy we have now seen. But to be perfectly frank, the regulatory framework by which I was abiding is a crazy one. Whether incentive payments are made, and to whom they are made, should be a matter for each university and its governing body. The state is entitled to require that each university can account for how it has spent the money, but provided proper procedures were adopted in terms of governance and overall budgets are not exceeded, these issues should not be a matter for regulation at all.

I think the idea that all incentive payments in universities are inappropriate is wrong-headed – though admittedly I would also be of the view that incentive payments need to be based on the achievement of stretch targets given to the recipient. I think it is time that universities were no longer treated like public bureaucracies.

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7 Comments on “Repayment of allowances”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    Assuming that the money cannot be retrieved from the individuals concerned (which is probably the case) then it does seem odd. But I guess its the HEA’s way of rapping the university on the knuckles. Its a right mess and everyone wants to cover their ass.
    I don’t know whether their position is justified since UCD has argued that the HEA knew all about it but thats another story.
    Whether the burden of this falls on the students depends how the university manages itself. Part of me thinks that it shouldn’t fall on the students. But then it shouldn’t fall on the staff either.
    Meanwhile, the HEA seems to be saying “this is your problem, mate, you got yourself into this”.

  2. Brendan Guilfoyle Says:

    Funny the disparity between your response to a foul-mouthed cyclist’s indifference to traffic laws and the misuse of millions of euro of tax-payers money by a university president: see your earlier post

    Perhaps the status of the “perpetrators” has something to do with it.

    • I beg your pardon, Brendan? This response makes no sense whatsoever. I have made no point here at all, in any way, about what response would be appropriate to anyone breaking the rules, and as I emphasised, we didn’t. I am asking whether the students should be penalised. The equivalent point in my cyclist post would be to suggest that because that individual broke the lights and collided with me, some other law-abiding pedestrian should have to pay a fine.

      I’m sorry, your comment is a bit weird.

  3. Vincent Says:

    I would say that UCD was not the first to wander into that realm. Surely paying bonus to civil servants is under that crown.

    On your main point, you must have been having a laugh when writing, if you for one instant think that those moneys were ever slated for Students or even that most places have a view of students beyond the fleecing of fresh meat. Something that will continue while the system as a whole is allowed to act as a Cartel.

  4. Ernie Ball Says:

    What’s bizarre is the surprise of the media at learning that UCD might be run by kleptocrats. You mean to tell me that the President and his team have put lining their own nests ahead of the needs of the institution?!? I guess people weren’t paying attention when 7-figure sums were spent on the President’s house.

    Then they get caught. And what happens then? Do they give the money back? Do they what?! That’s not how this game is played.

    What I want to know is: how can the Governing Authority of UCD stand for this? If they do not demand the immediate resignations of the President, the Registrar and the Bursar (for starters) then we’ll know that this place has governance on the level of that in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Minus the bloodshed, of course.

  5. Ernie Ball Says:

    Oh, and Ferdinand: you may want to leave such matters to the Universities. But what happens when the Governing Body is composed entirely of Yes Men and facilitators and the Executive is corrupt? Who blows the whistle? If I understand the view you’re expressing here, it would seem that you’d prefer a system where there is no oversight and the whistle is never blown…

  6. Robert Browne Says:

    This money should be handed back immediately. If it is not handed back those that received it should be investigated by the Garda. Theft of public money dressed up as bonus payments is not legitimate, besides how does one motivate staff who are already on salaries that are silly. Everyone in these positions says that they could bet paid more abroad. Well then, off you go! I have a belief that the most capable are being made to emigrate, let them stay in their own country, doing the work they love doing for reasonable salaries and let the greedy follow the money!

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