Sunday 22 October 2017

Calls for probe after claims of spending malpractice at some of Ireland's top universities

University of Limerick (Stock photo)
University of Limerick (Stock photo)
Allison Bray

Allison Bray

A member of the State’s spending watchdog is calling for an investigation into allegations of spending malpractice at some of Ireland’s top universities.

Allan Farrell, a Fine Gael TD and a member of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, said a special report on RTE’s Primetime Investigates programme last night raised some serious questions about use of public money by some third level institutions which he said warrants closer scrutiny.

“RTÉ Investigates discovered significant findings related to a number of third level institutions including UCC, DIT, UL and NUIG. Over 150,000 transactions were examined revealing very serious maladministration and misdirection across the board,” he said.

“Procedural flaws in the treatment of whistle-blowers and mismanagement of severance deals were also uncovered,” he said.

NUI Galway
NUI Galway

“There seems to be a feeling in some third level institutions that they are accountable to nobody and this must be urgently addressed,” he added.

The programme, entitled  “Universities Unchallenged” examined the lack of oversight at universities and colleges throughout the country.

According to RTE, the programme “discovered some third level facilities are wasting public money and failing to protect the taxpayer.”

Meanwhile, incoming  President at the University of Limerick (UL) Dr Des Fitzgerald said programme raised issues “of grave concern”, especially the university’s dealings with the Public Accounts Committee.

University College Cork
University College Cork

He said he is  “very concerned that UL would have been anything less than fully transparent in its dealings with the Public Accounts Committee”.

And he said he “intends to ensure the university’s full cooperation with the PAC as it fulfils its vital role in assuring accountability and transparency in public bodies.”

The Union of Students in Ireland said they were concerned by the claims made in the programme and stressed that we must be able to trust universities.

USI President Annie Koey said: "Students and the taxpayer fund our higher education institutions.

"It is crucial that we have trust in their governance. Students in Ireland currently pay the second highest fees in Europe and now we are concerned how these fees are being spent.

USI president Annie Hoey. Photograph by John Kelly.
USI president Annie Hoey. Photograph by John Kelly.

"Before there can be any decision made on a new model to fund higher education we must have full faith that good governance and accountability procedures are being adhered to in our higher education institutions."

She said it's vital that funding isn't affected by the revalations.

Ms Hoey said: "While investigations into these allegations is being made, it would be reckless for our Government to rush into any decision about the future funding of higher education.

"Higher education institutions are here to serve the public good, and the public must have confidence in how the funding of these institutions is managed.

"It would be inconceivable for our Government to even consider introducing Income Contingent Loans and putting students into €20,000 debt while trust in how funds are managed are now shaken."

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