Sutherland urges universities to sack incompetent academics
Universities should have the power to sack incompetent professors and lecturers, former EU Commissioner Peter Sutherland said yesterday.
Ireland had been out of line with most developed countries on this issue for years, claimed Mr Sutherland.
He wondered how Ireland could justify a system in which tenure (a job for life) was granted effectively on appointment. "This is an anomaly that appears even more bizarre now, given the lack of job security that currently characterises the private sector."
He also criticised the lack of flexibility in determining pay for academics. Those who were engaged in top research and were very good lecturers received the same salary as those who did little or no research and whose teaching was indifferent.
"Ireland's universities must have the same flexibility to recruit, reward and terminate contracts that is the norm in the UK and US. This is surely an acid test of our commitment to public sector reform as a whole," he told the launch of the Undergraduate Awards of Ireland and Northern Ireland at the Royal Irish Academy.
Mr Sutherland warned also that we were in danger of 'dumbing down' higher education by not funding it properly. In the UK, politicians had the courage to introduce top-up fees but we had rejected the idea here, despite all the evidence that graduates earned more than non graduates.
He dismissed the notion that we could have seven world-class universities in Ireland.
"As chairman of the London School of Economics I have some insight into the cost of running such entities and the ferocity of the competition and, personally, I don't see how Ireland can afford this. We can have seven universities but they can't all be comprehensive world-class research universities with undergraduate education, postgraduate training and research."
He welcomed the innovation alliance between Trinity and UCD but wondered if the Government would support it with more than just rhetoric.
He opposed the notion of spreading the resources around evenly, giving the same to top universities as a "Ballygobackwards RTC".
Mr Sutherland said his comments about the inability to sack incompetent staff also applied to schools where it was virtually impossible to get rid of anybody, no matter how bad they were.
Parents had put up with situations where they had to get grinds for their children because there were incompetent teachers in one or two subjects, said Mr Sutherland, who also defended the provision of elite secondary schools.
Mr Sutherland, who is chairman of the bailed-out global investment bank Goldman Sachs, declined to comment on reports in yesterday's Irish Independent that the bank had paid its staff an average salary of Stg£309,000 (€352,000) or Stg£10bn (€11.4bn) in total last year and still managed to make a profit of a massive Stg€7.5bn (€8.5bn).