UNIVERSITIES are to lose out on €3.6m in funding as punishment for making unauthorised top-ups to staff -- but the pain is to be spread across five years.
The Higher Education Authority (HEA) is withholding the funding as a sanction for unauthorised allowances given to university presidents and other high-ranking staff between 2005 and 2011.
The universities have not been forced to pay back the cash. Instead, they are losing out on future funding.
The pain will be spread across the next five years after some universities complained the sums involved were too much to lose out on in a single year, according to correspondence released under freedom of information rules.
The news came as the Department of Education confirmed legislation banning unauthorised allowances would be brought before the Oireachtas next year.
The department believes the practice has now ended, but is insisting on going ahead with a legislative deterrent anyway.
In total, some €7.2m in top-ups was paid to around 230 academics and administrators over a seven-year period.
As part of the punishment, half this sum is now being withheld from future funding.
The other half will be given to the universities, but must be spent solely on student services over the next 10 years.
The unauthorised allowances were used to reward senior staff for taking additional responsibilities. However, the top-ups required ministerial approval, which was never given. The additional payments were made at a time when university presidents were complaining that colleges were cash-strapped and needed more funding.
UCD will be hardest hit by the cuts, losing out on over €1.6m over the next five years.
UCC will lose out on around €838,000, while Trinity College is having just over €603,000 withheld.
NUI Galway will have almost €254,000 held back and the University of Limerick is losing out on just over €165,000.
Relatively few top-up payments were made at NUI Maynooth and DCU. They are to lose out on almost €68,000 and €27,000 respectively.
UCD president Hugh Brady wrote to HEA chief executive Tom Boland, saying it was proposed to "make the funding adjustment" over five years.
Dr Brady previously defended the unauthorised allowances, saying they were the international norm and necessary to persuade staff to take leadership and management roles.
UCC president Michael Murphy asked for its cut to be spread over five years "given the prevailing financial climate".
NUI Maynooth president Philip Nolan also asked for this "to minimise the impact on our overall grant in any one year".
However, DCU president Brian MacCraith gave his agreement to the full amount being docked in one go.
All of the funding held back from the colleges will be routed by the HEA to fund initiatives co-ordinated by the National Forum for Teaching and Learning, a consultative group established by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.
A spokeswoman for Mr Quinn said the department had no reason to believe the practice was continuing. She said the heads of the bill to ban the practice had been approved and the text was being drafted.