THE cost of investigating a cheating student has soared to €410,000, the Sunday Indpendent has learned.
The figures are revealed in a report into how a student at the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) got hold of answers during an exam.
Ed Madden, a barrister, mediator and one of two people on the investigation team, charged €217,890 for his services to date. His co-investigator, Barbara Redmond, was paid a fraction of that, €41,153. More than €100,000 was paid to two top solicitors' firms: Hayes Solicitors, acting for the investigators, earned €85,991, while Arthur Cox charged €37,149 for representing GMIT.
The huge bill was blamed on the length of the inquiry, which took three years and could yet cost more. Those named in the report have been given an opportunity to comment on its findings, which may mean more input from lawyers. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) may now investigate how the inquiry came to cost so much. Colm Keaveney, the former Labour chairman who defected to Fianna Fail last week, has asked the chairman of the PAC, John McGuinness, to investigate the "scandalous use of public resources".
"We are talking about 20 special needs assistants, 700 medical cards, a number of school buildings, 20 garda cars. I think this is a scandalous waste of public resources," he told the Dail.
The inquiry took place against a backdrop of concerns about cheating and poor academic standards at GMIT. A business student was allegedly given a code-protected answer sheet before an exam, and allegedly used it to cheat. A lecturer complained and following an inquiry the student was disciplined but was still allowed to graduate in 2011.
That prompted more complaints that allegations of plagiarism were not being dealt with properly by the college.
GMIT's governing body eventually appointed external investigators Dr Bairbre Redmond, deputy registrar for teaching and learning at UCD, and Ed Madden, a barrister and mediator, to report on "the manner in which [GMIT] responded to and dealt with complaints/suspicions of plagiarism made or communicated by Lecturer X with reference to work submitted by Student Y and related matters".
While Dr Redmond took unpaid leave to work on the inquiry, Mr Madden was paid for continuous work over three years. They were originally given three weeks to report back but the inquiry has dragged on until now.
Last year, the costs were at €250,000, rising to €352,195 in August and spiralling to €410,000 up to the time the report was completed.
A spokesperson for GMIT yesterday said the €410,000 cost should be considered in light of the college's €57m budget. "It should be borne in mind that these costs were incurred over a three-year time frame and included the fees of both investigators, the institute's and investigators' solicitors, stenographer costs and ancillary costs," she said.
"While the amount is significant, it should be borne in mind that the institute's annual budget is in the region of €57m. The cost should also be viewed in the context of ensuring public confidence in the academic reputation of the institute."
Education Minister Ruari Quinn described the cost of the inquiry as "very serious" in the Dail and suggested that the Comptroller and Auditor General could investigate it.
A spokesperson for the minister told the Sunday Independent this weekend: "GMIT is now contacting the various parties mentioned in the report seeking their observations on the matters raised. On receipt of these comments a determination will be made regarding any further action deemed necessary. The Higher Education Authority will continue to liaise with GMIT on the matter and will advise the department on progress."