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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Life is a struggle on €232,000, says university president

UCC chief defends salary and reveals the 'stress' he is under as he tries to survive Ireland's recession

Published 09/09/2012 | 05:00

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Dr Michael Murphy, centre , at a graduation ceremony in UCC last week with Mary O'Connor and Denis Irwin.
Chuck Feeney, top, with his wife and family members at Thursday's ceremony in Dublin

Ireland's highest-paid university president has staunchly defended his six-figure salary.

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The president of University College Cork, Dr Michael Murphy, who is paid €232,000 a year, has described how the heads of Irish universities "are as challenged at paying their bills as anyone else".

He continued: "Many people won't understand this because of the scale difference. But the stress on people is the same."

Dr Murphy explained that he had taken on a certain standard of living when he accepted the lucrative job in 2007.

"When you take on a job as a university head, you have an anticipation that there will be a certain salary going with it. You will have bought the house, you will have got the mortgage, which will be bigger than the one from, you know (before).

"So I can tell you that university heads are as challenged about paying their bills today arising from cutbacks as anybody else."

He also warned that the creme de la creme in Ireland's third-level colleges could earn more -- with perks including luxury cars -- if they chose to exercise their skills overseas.

"Most of the people who are working as heads of Irish universities could be doing the same thing in universities anywhere around the globe at twice the pay," he said.

"Contrary to popular opinion, I do not have a house or a car provided by the university. But I do know that a university in Britain last year advertised the post of vice-chancellor (for a university) the same size as UCC, (which is) behind us in rankings, and if I had applied for it I would have doubled my salary, got a house and the use of a Jaguar."

Dr Murphy was at Dublin Castle last Thursday, along with eight other university heads, to present the billionaire philanthropist Charles 'Chuck' Feeney with an honorary degree in Law for his selfless giving to the Irish educational system over the past two decades.

The publicity-shy businessman -- whose efforts, until recently, have remained anonymous -- has donated €1.25bn to projects across the Republic and Northern Ireland. Of this, €800m has gone directly to Irish universities.

Speaking after the conferral, Dr Murphy also questioned how great a salary cut he should accept to satisfy public discord about the matter.

"People who have stayed here have absorbed substantial cuts and have individually made major sacrifices on a voluntary basis already.

"I took a pay cut of 15pc by becoming the university president. On top of that then came the public sector pay cuts and levies.

"So when I say I'm down 40pc in my cash flow, how far do you want people to go? I think everybody in the country has been making enormous sacrifices.

"There is an old saying: 'pay peanuts, get monkeys'. And I would be seriously concerned that this continuing campaign to force further and further reductions in the quality of life of people who are working 60- and 70-hour weeks will drive people out of the country. It is already happening."

Meanwhile, the president of University College Galway, Dr James Browne, said he was happy to accept whatever salary the Government sees fit. But he criticised it for requesting voluntary pay cuts.

"I don't think its fair to ask anybody to write his own salary. I was offered €240,000 when I became president. It is now €200,000 and I have brought it below that since.

"If the Government decides what I should be paid, I'll live with that. They already cut us back 20pc -- and rightly so.

"I am also making a donation every year to the university foundation, so I am doing more than what I was asked to do.

"But in a sense the onus is on the Government to tell us what our salaries should be."

He also advocated that university heads who are taking home six-figure pay packets should be held accountable for their earnings.

"I would also be very strongly in favour of everybody being asked to justify their salary -- to make sure that the people who have those salaries are earning them.

"And if not, then they should be taken off them. Ultimately, it is up to the Government to set the league and for us to be accountable."

Dr Philip Nolan, president of NUI Maynooth, said he would accept more pay cuts down the line.

"I don't think it would be fair to single out any one small group in the public sector and say that that group should be cut when it won't save much money and will create a lot of unhappiness."

However, he added: "The Government did what they had to do. They may do something similar again. I am a citizen and I'll abide by that."

At the function in Dublin Castle, the generous billionaire Chuck Feeney spoke briefly.

"After such nice words about me, I have only one thing to say: my cup runneth over. Thank you, one and all, for your kindness and generosity."

Mr Feeney had donated anonymously until about 11 years ago and agreed to go public only in order to encourage other wealthy individuals to follow his 'giving-while-living' example.

He recommended that other wealthy individuals should follow his example of donating money to causes that they considered worthy.

"My rationale is pretty simple. Given the chance to compare the satisfaction they get one way or the other, there's no doubt that they'd rather do something good with it than nothing."

Sunday Independent

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