UL granted €17m for 'vanity projects'


The cash-strapped University of Limerick (UL) has spent in excess of €1.1m for a mosaic and €16m on a pedestrian bridge over the Shannon.

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe is to receive a report into spending at the college in the coming days and is said to be deeply concerned about spending after revelations in the Sunday Independent about the €5m spending on two lavish new homes for the college president.

Despite a budget deficit of €3m, it has emerged this weekend that the college has received €1,125,000 for the building of a mosaic mural at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at UL from Chuck Feeney's Atlantic Philanthropies foundation.

According to figures and documents, the college has received donations totalling €40m from Mr Feeney since 2001, for a wide range of campus developments.

Other projects that have received the support of the Atlantic Philanthropies include the UL Students' Centre, the University Concert Hall and the €15.8m- plus Living Bridge across the River Shannon.

The bridge was designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, London, and it consists of seven 50-metre spans linked together by piers, which create four platforms of refuge for walkers.

The Pedestrian Living Bridge project was resourced through a partnership of private and public funding and was assigned to Arup Consulting Engineers in Dublin.

Kerin Contract Management in Limerick managed the project while building work was undertaken by Eiffel Construction, France's largest bridge builder. According to senior college sources, both the bridge and the mosaic have fallen behind schedule and have run over budget.

According to the Limerick university: "Each initiative funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies has contributed to UL's institutional goal of enhancing the educational, sporting and cultural infrastructure for students, faculty and staff and the broader community."

Defending the huge spend on the so-called "vanity projects", UL told the Sunday Independent that the significant advances in the campus infrastructure had only been possible as a result of kind donations from Atlantic Philanthropies.

"UL has been fortunate to receive significant funding from the Atlantic Philanthropies as part of their long-standing and significant support for the realisation of UL's ambitious vision to become a university of world standing.

"Atlantic Philanthropies have provided funding for scholarships, professorships, research institutes and laboratories, student residences, the library and a wide range of capital and non-capital initiatives," said a spokesman for the college. Atlantic Philanthropies said it was not concerned about how the money was being spent, as the process was fully transparent and open and it was kept fully informed as to how the donated money was being spent.

Meanwhile, writes John Drennan, Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe has warned third-level colleges and institutes of technology that they must cut out the administrative flab and slim down in the same manner as their second and primary level educational counterparts.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, the minister said that he wanted college chiefs, some of whom now earned more than the Taoiseach, "to run their institutions more efficiently''.

Figures secured by the Sunday Independent revealed that in 2009 fees for architectural services within the Departments of Education building unit were reduced by an emphatic 30 per cent.

The costs of engineering services were also reduced by 19 per cent whilst quantity surveying fees also came in at 12 per cent under budget.

Legal fees have also fallen, but by a more modest six per cent.

The minister also revealed that his department had secured reductions of €30m in teacher substitution costs in the wake of the decision to replace "demand-led availability of substituted cover'' with "a budgeted scheme''.

A "much more limited substitution cover for uncertified sick leave'' in the primary sector had made a significant contribution to this reduction whilst a further €14m has been cut from the prefab-rental bill.

Commenting on the overall savings of just under €46m Mr O'Keeffe said: "These figures show we can achieve significant savings by simply being more cost conscious."