Professors teaching for just four hours a week: O'Keeffe
Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe has accused some university professors of teaching as few as four hours a week.
They are earning between €120,000 and €143,000 a year for what the minister yesterday called a "light" teaching load, as well as for research and administration.
The minister said he would like to see professors spend more time in the classroom, irrespective of the amount of research involved.
Undergraduates deserved the best people in front of them in class so they could benefit from their professionalism and expertise.
The light teaching load is one of the areas that he has asked the Comptroller and Auditor General to take into consideration in a value for money audit of higher education.
The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) immediately disputed his claim about the four-hour teaching week -- but Mr O'Keeffe told reporters: "I was told by two of them who are very high-profile lecturers."
His accusation comes days after university heads conceded that the €1,500 student registration charge was really a fee by any other name and that one-in-five children of professionals was on a higher education grant.
The minister said he would like to see a review of the current contract in the third-level education sector.
"I would very much desire that into next year as part of any bargaining that would happen that instead of cuts we would build in much greater flexibility into the lecturers' and professors' contracts," he said.
Mr O'Keeffe said he had been excited by what had been on the table before talks between the Government and the unions broke down before Christmas.
What was on offer might not bring in the money needed "but it looked to me that it was the dawn of a new era when we would have negotiations for contracts at third level, at primary and at second level with additional hours being provided. This indicated, too, that we had an opportunity to go forward and make real progress in delivering the education services."
The minister said that lecturers in institutes of technology had 16 class-contact hours per week plus administration.
IFUT general secretary Mike Jennings agreed that teaching had been downgraded in recent years, with an overemphasis on research, but said he was not personally aware of any academic who had a four-hour teaching week.
If it happened, it would be very unusual and in circumstances where an individual was involved in a specific research project for a specific time period.
Until this month the normal salary range for professors was €136,598 to €162,319 but it has been cut by about 12pc.
Sources said the issue of the workload of academic staff might be raised in the national strategy for higher education, which will be presented to the minister within a few months.