Posted tagged ‘Kent State University’

An academic bonus?

October 30, 2009

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.