Wednesday 20 September 2017

Academics have a case, but little public support

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

IT may seem cheeky for universities to be challenging the Government's right to give itself full authority over pay and staffing numbers.

After all, the State exercises such control over other parts of the public service, including institutes of technology -- why should the universities be any different?

These are the same universities that awarded unauthorised allowances to the tune of €7.6m to over 200 staff between 2005 and 2009.

The same universities pretty well ignored the call from Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to reduce top salaries voluntarily to no more than the new public service pay cap of €200,000.

So, there will be little public sympathy for their case.

But there is a certain logic to their argument.

If the principal of a primary or second-level school gets an allowance for taking on that job, why should the same not happen at third-level?

What doesn't help their case is that universities' pay is generally high, partly due to the benchmarking pay rises of a decade ago.

All boats rose on that particular tide and among them are some people who may not be able to justify those handsome salaries.

But then there are also those who take on special responsibilities, who pull in big funding, who drive important research.

Apart from the most exceptional of cases, for which special permission has to be received, there is no way to reward that additional performance.

The universities say the only way that they can attract and retain the talent for important leadership roles is by having the flexibility to pay that little bit more where needed.

They fear the proposed new legislation will close that door forever, and, at the very least, they want to see it watered down.

As he reflects on their arguments, Mr Quinn has to decide if they are worth it.

Irish Independent

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