Wednesday 20 November 2019

UCD medical school chief quits €241,000 job for US

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

THE head of UCD's medical school is leaving his €241,000-a-year post to return to the US -- warning that Ireland is no longer interested in attracting high-calibre academics.

Professor Bill Powderly is the second head of a university medical school to leave his job in just six months.

He said government cuts and attitudes to research have made it impossible for him to remain in his position.

His decision is a further blow to academic medicine in Ireland following the departure of Professor Dermot Kelleher from his role as Dean of Medicine at Trinity College Dublin to go to Imperial College London in June.

Prof Powderly, who is going to Washington University, St Louis, Missouri in the new year, stressed his decision to leave was for a mixture of personal and professional reasons that he had been considering for a time, and was not a knee-jerk reaction.

However, he told the Irish Independent: "You do balance opportunities available elsewhere with ability to continue to be successful in the role you are currently playing, and I don't think I can be successful at the standard I set for myself."

Prof Powderly, a world authority on HIV, said recently announced salary cuts for medical academics would be a major deterrent in the ability of medical schools to recruit strong candidates.

He said the last 15 to 20 years was a "golden era", when Irish universities were able to attract "serious international talent back to this country".

Professor Powderly himself returned to Ireland in 2004, after 22 years in the US, to take up his post in UCD.

"All of these people had significant research programmes in the US. They all built their careers and their reputations in the US and came back.

"We attracted them because we invested in research. They, in turn, brought considerable international research funding and graduate research opportunities to Ireland.

"They were able to do in Ireland what they were doing internationally and that attractiveness has now gone. I am 100pc convinced that we wouldn't attract their calibre now."

He said it would be a mistake to say that Ireland had become less attractive just because of salary, but it was sending a message that "we aren't serious about academic medicine anymore because we are not going to make salaries competitive".

He said he did not think that the country was going to be able to attract the calibre of individuals "to build on what we have already and I don't honestly think I can deliver in what I am supposed to be delivering as head of a medical school in UCD".

Professor Powderly also believes there is a disconnect between the Department of Health and the HSE, as the agency responsible for delivering health services, and other government departments.

"While Ireland has had a number of reports from Government emphasising the importance of biomedical research for the country, neither the Department of Health nor the HSE has ever made any effort to advance that," he said.

Two recent government moves have heightened concerns within the university sector about their ability to attract academic talent, in medicine and elsewhere.

There is dismay at plans for a 30pc cut in salaries for newly appointed medical professors, reducing them to €145,000, and proposed legislation to compel universities to comply with government pay policy.

Irish Independent

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