Over the past week or so the Irish newspapers have given over a fair amount of space to the issue of academic salaries in Ireland. The gist of the commentary has been that Irish academics are seriously over-paid, and that professors in particular are far too generously treated. Last week the Irish Times produced a list of the 100 best paid employees in Irish education, and this was followed yesterday by an article written by Brian Mooney in which he suggested nobody in education (and, following a line that has been taken by Fintan O’Toole in the same paper, in the public service overall) should be paid more than €100,000.
It should probably be said that in Ireland all university professors (and a significant proportion of associate professors) earn over €100,000, so we are not necessarily talking about a small minority at the top. Also, because there will presumably still need to be a differential between grades, any reduction of professorial salaries to below €100,000 will produce a knock-on effect that will reduce all salaries across the sector, at least to some extent. A substantial proportion of those affected will then, in all likelihood, have problems with mortgages or similar payments, as they will have taken on debt based on their assumptions of income.
Irish professors, like other public sector employees, have had their pay cut already over the past two years. It is true that they enjoy salaries that are above the international norm. But in order to qualify for these salaries they have to win qualifications and demonstrate achievement that, in most other professions, would get them higher salaries still.
It may well be that, as a nation, we need to re-think the levels of pay that we can afford, but it is not reasonable to single out academics in this way, and to do it in such an off-hand manner.
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