THE top 50 earners in Ireland's cash-strapped universities are sharing a massive €10m pay bonanza, the Irish Independent has learned.
hey received an average of €200,000 in pay, expenses and other benefits last year, new figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and other sources reveal.
The figures provide the first comprehensive outline of the lavish pay packages available to an elite group of earners across the university system.
The massive sums are set to spark controversy at a time when hundreds of college jobs face the chop and the Government is attempting to reintroduce third-level fees.
The top earner last year was UCD vice president for research, Professor Des Fitzgerald. His overall pay package is potentially worth up to €495,000-a-year -- 15 times the average industrial wage.
However, his package for last year was restricted to €409,000 after a performance-related bonus of up to €86,000 was withheld when UCD decided not to issue bonuses for 2008 and 2009.
Prof Fitzgerald is one of 29 university staff around the country in receipt of so-called "exceptional salaries" sanctioned by the Higher Education Authority (HEA).
These are high rates of pay for staff it was feared would not otherwise work in their university.
The figures obtained by the Irish Independent illustrate massive disparities between the remuneration of ordinary university staff and the highest earners, many of whom are in administrative rather than academic jobs.
In contrast to Prof Fitzgerald's package, the pay scale for a lecturer at UCD ranges from just €54,000 to €87,000.
Of those on "exceptional salaries", 10 are based at UCD, with four people employed by the university having more lucrative packages than its president, Dr Hugh Brady.
Last year Dr Brady received pay of €220,000 and an allowance of over €12,000.
Dr Brady's vice president for staff, Eamon Drea, also received a lucrative basic salary of €220,000 and a contribution to his pension of €44,000.
Prof Tom Begley, the dean of UCD's business school, received a basic salary of €250,000, along with €9,400 in expenses and a €37,000 pension payment.
The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) reacted with anger to the figures last night, describing them as "inappropriate" and "totally out of proportion".
IFUT general secretary Mike Jennings also described the "exceptional salaries" sanctioned by the HEA as "a disloyalty bonus".
"It is a ridiculous system. The more you demonstrate your lack of commitment to staying in Ireland, the more you are rewarded," he said.
Mr Jennings also said the higher salaries were "ultra generous" compared to similar posts at universities abroad.
"The figures simply don't stand up to international scrutiny," he said.
Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes last night called for a shake-up of how the top salaries were calculated and justified.
He argued that more funding would be available to attract genuine world renowned academics to Ireland if other third-level salaries weren't so high.
A spokesman for UCD defended the payments and said there was nothing irregular about them.
He said UCD was significantly larger and more diverse than other universities in the country.
"It wouldn't be surprising we have more senior administrators than other universities," he said. The disclosure of the figures comes just days after the Irish Independent revealed that hundreds of jobs are set to be lost across the higher education sector under plans to merge courses and close a number of small college departments to save money.
The cuts are expected to hit staff in all universities and institutes of technology.
The plans are being developed by the HEA and have yet to go to Government.
It is unlikely the bulk of the cuts will be in place by the time the new academic year starts in September.