University heads' group gets €1.4m despite cutbacks
CASH-STRAPPED third level institutions are to spend almost €1.4m this year funding a company that represents the interests of university presidents.
The public money is part-financing the operation of the Irish Universities Association (IUA), a limited company with seven university presidents on its board of directors.
Figures released to the Irish Independent reveal for the first time how much each university is contributing to the IUA.
Because the IUA is a limited company with charitable status it is not subject to the same level of public scrutiny as the universities themselves and is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.
The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) expressed concern over the level of university funds being given to the company at a time of third-level cutbacks.
UCD is the largest funder from among the universities, contributing almost €283,000 this year.
UCC is to contribute €222,000, Trinity College €217,000, NUI Galway €204,000, University of Limerick €155,000, NUI Maynooth €143,000 and DCU €139,000.
The cash from the universities represents 64pc of the association's budget this year, with the remainder coming from the EU, the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Enterprise.
Overall IUA annual funding increased from just €865,000 in 2001 to more than €4.8m in 2009. In the same period it expanded its administrative staff from six to 15.
Staff wages jumped from €331,000 in 2001 to €1.4m in 2009, according to accounts lodged with the companies office.
Some of the staff expansion came during a period when restrictions were in place on third-level recruitment.
However, overall funding has slipped back in the past two years, decreasing to €3.9m last year, and will be €2.1m this year.
"The IUA's main purpose has been as an association of the presidents of the universities," said IFUT general secretary Mike Jennings.
"Each of the universities already has highly staffed human resources departments, has IBEC representation, and retains highly paid barristers in industrial relations disputes -- so you would have to ask if this money (the funding given to the IUA) is being used in the best possible way."
However, IUA chief executive Ned Costello said the IUA was more than just a representative body for the university presidents -- it also sought to formulate collective policies on behalf of the universities.
Mr Costello claimed the IUA was more efficient in dealing with national issues than universities acting independently of each other would be.
"Our subscriptions are used to fund our core activities in policy formulation, coordination, and interaction with a wide range of stakeholders in the universities, government and the social partners."
He said the association had been involved in a number of valuable projects, including the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) and the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE), which offer places on reduced points to school leavers from disadvantaged backgrounds and with disabilities respectively.