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Minister urges university elite to take 10pc pay cut

EDUCATION Minister Batt O'Keeffe is urging high paid university staff to take a voluntary 10pc pay cut in the interests of the public purse.

Mr O'Keeffe's appeal came after the Irish Independent revealed that the 50 best paid third level academics and administrators earned €10m between them in pay, allowances and other benefits last year.

The minister is seeking the voluntary cuts across the board for university staff earning over €150,000 a year.

However, Mr O'Keeffe has no power to compel any of the staff involved to take the cuts suggested.

The minister said pay for top level university professors was, generally speaking, in line with the remuneration of the secretary generals of government departments, who have already agreed to a 10pc cut.

"I obviously feel that those on that kind of salary should take the appropriate action, just like secretary generals have," Mr O'Keeffe told RTE.

"We would exhort them in these circumstances to take such a pay cut."

The revelation of the massive pay packages earned by small elite in Ireland's seven universities comes as hundreds of college jobs are under threat and the Government seeks to re-introduce third level fees.

Average

The average package for the 50 best paid staff in the country worked out at €200,000.

One professor, UCD vice-president for research, Des Fitzgerald, received €409,000 in pay, expenses and pension contributions.

The Union of Students in Ireland said the figures helped explain why university chiefs were so supportive of a return to college fees.

"This latest revelation illustrates the systemic failure of our top universities to keep their costs under control," said USI president Shane Kelly.

"It is patently clear that the call for the re-introduction of third level fees is being fuelled by the inability of our universities to manage their finances properly.

"It is not sustainable for members of university top brass to be getting paid more than the president of the country."

Plea

Responding to the minister's plea, the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) said it didn't make sense to be seeking individual voluntary pay cuts.

"What is needed is a structural change and a fairer remuneration system," said IFUT general secretary Mike Jennings.

The Higher Education Authority said it was currently reviewing rules which allow universities to pay so-called "exceptional salaries" -- remuneration levels well in excess of the recommended guidelines -- to attract staff who would not otherwise work in Irish institutions.

The authority said it was also involved in an ongoing investigation into unauthorised allowances paid to university staff.

The HEA had previously found that unauthorised allowances were paid to UCD president Dr Hugh Brady and former NUI Galway president Dr Iognaid O Muircheartaigh.