Free fees perk worth €1.1m to university workers
THE full value of a free fees perk enjoyed by university staff amounted to €1.1m this year.
Highly paid professors and senior managers are among those exempt from paying fees and the annual student contribution charge for their children, husbands, wives and civil partners.
It works in two ways: universities waive or reduce the charge for a child/spouse/partner of a staff member and may also pay the fees if the student attends another university.
Both the student contribution charge, which rises to €2,250 in September, and, in some cases, fees for postgraduate courses, which could amount to €10,000 a year, are covered.
Every year, hundreds of staff in the seven universities avail of what is known as the fees remission scheme. Its operation varies slightly between older universities such as Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and newer ones, such as Dublin City University (DCU)
It is open to all grades including college presidents, some of whom are on salaries of over €200,000 a year, and senior academic and administrative staff on €150,000 or more.
In the 2011/12 academic year, 420 staff in the seven universities availed of the perk, according to figures compiled by the Higher Education Authority for Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.
The numbers availing of the scheme vary from year to year, but because of the rises in the student contribution charge, the cost to the colleges has grown significantly in recent years.
University College Cork (UCC) tops the 2011/12 list with 117 staff availing of the scheme at a cost of €315,295.
Figures for the other universities are: University College Dublin (UCD), 101 staff, (€255,055); NUI Galway, 66 staff (€188,000); TCD, 74 staff (€177,296); University of Limerick, 37 staff (€68,621); NUI Maynooth, 18 staff (€42,931); DCU, seven staff (€21,164).
The scheme has come under scrutiny in the current economic climate.
Fianna Fail education spokesman Brendan Smith asked Mr Quinn whether the fees scheme was being considered as part of the review of public service allowances.
But the minister has signalled that his hands are effectively tied by a Labour Court recommendation stating that the fees remission is part of staff conditions of employment.
The universities have also come to attention for €8m worth of unauthorised allowances paid to senior staff between 2005 and 2011, and the refusal of some senior staff to take a cut in salaries of over €200,000.