Friday 23 March 2018

TCD in bid to avert €100m debt

Focus on payroll as Provost stresses need to slash spending

Katherine Donnelly

TRINITY College Dublin is drawing up a radical cost-cutting plan in a bid to avoid debts of €80m-€100m over the next four years.

TCD Provost John Hegarty has warned a major financial crisis is looming at Ireland's oldest university unless action is taken.

A high-level working party, known as the Provost's Planning Group, is speedily preparing proposals to save money and earn extra revenue. The report is due in February.

Dr Hegarty, who earns €202,118 a year, has told the group that "all options must be explored", including payroll costs.

However, Trinity's management is bound by national agreements, including the Croke Park deal, which offers protection on pay and staffing levels.

Options could include a voluntary early retirement scheme or the filling of vacancies at lower points on the pay ladder than the departing staff members.

Although salaries are covered by national agreements, the college has paid over the odds to senior management in recent years.

A recent report from the Comptroller and Auditor General, found that it topped up the pay of some staff without government approval.

In 2005, a decision was taken to pay unauthorised allowances amounting to €181,000 to 12 staff, including eight heads of school. In 2008, the vice-provost received a €16,000 top up.

Of the current crux, a TCD spokesperson said: "We cannot pre-empt the outcome of the discussions and the Planning Group's report.

Dr Hegarty outlined the financial scenario to a recent meeting of the Trinity board.

Although all third-level colleges are feeling the pinch, the scale of the challenge facing Trinity is unprecedented.

At present it has no deficit -- the combined debt across the state's universities is about €30m, mainly arising from building works in three colleges.


But, according to Dr Hegarty, in the best case scenario, Trinity could have an accumulated deficit of €80m by 2015. At worst, it could be €100m.

He warned that even a return of third-level fees would not be enough to solve its financial difficulties.

Faced with the national economic crisis, the Government has been gradually reducing the support it makes available to third-level colleges.

It comes at a time of record student enrolment, which is putting additional pressure on available resources.

TCD has cut 116 of its 1,892 whole-time positions in keeping with a government instruction that higher education staffing levels be cut by 6pc in 2009-2010.

Overall, 1,144 of 18,923 whole-time jobs at third-level have been cut in the past two years.

Dr Hegarty told the Trinity board that the action already taken by the college in terms of generating extra revenue and cutting costs would not be enough to meet the financial challenges that lay ahead. He said the calculations predicting an €80m deficit allowed for an increase in the student contribution to the cost of their college education, along with no further cuts in government support.

The recent December Budget increased the student contribution from €1,500 to €2,000 a year for 2011/12, but that is only a fraction of the average €8,000-€10,000 per year it costs to educate a person at third-level.

In the current uncertain political and economic climate, it is impossible to predict how much more students will be expected to contribute

Irish Independent

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