IRELAND: Universities face penalties for pay rises

The two biggest and best known Irish universities - Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin (UCD) - are embroiled in a furious row over unauthorised payments to some of their staff and have been told publicly that they face penalties through cuts in their core funding from the Exchequer.

The payments have grabbed much attention in a country that is grappling with austerity measures, public sector pay freezes, huge unemployment, a resumption of emigration and a bail out from the IMF and the EU.

On Tuesday it was disclosed that Trinity had paid 27 faculty increased salaries from last month. They had been promoted last summer, largely on the basis of achievements to date, but the university had delayed paying them extra money until last month.

The initial pay rises are modest enough, ranging from EUR3,500 to EUR5,200 (US$4,700 to US$70,000) annually. But they will be worth from EUR12,900 to EUR35,886 extra within a few years when the promoted staff get to the top of their new pay scale.

The biggest pay hike will be for three associate professors who have been promoted to full professorships. Their starting salary is now EUR113,604 but this will rise to EUR145,952 in five years time.

In addition, 17 senior lecturers have been transferred to associate professor rank, starting at EUR99,236, which is the fourth point of their new salary scale, but reaching the top of the scale at EUR110,066 in just two years time.

Seven other lecturers have been promoted to senior lecturer scales. Their new salary is EUR85,778 and they will reach the top of the scale EUR94,035 in two years - EUR12,570 more than they would have received if they remained in their present posts.

The promotions have been defended by the university, which said that recruitment and development of academic staff is the single most important determinant of performance and quality in teaching and research in universities.

"Recruitment at the lecturer level and rigorous merit-based academic promotions are the international norm in the university sector," it said.

But the Department of Education and Skills said the promotions were made outside the terms of an Employment Control Framework that had been in operation in the sector, and were therefore unauthorised. Discussions will take place with Trinity "with a view to protecting the Exchequer from any unauthorised costs", it said.

Discussions over unauthorised allowances and payments are already underway between the other university, UCD, and the Higher Education Authority, which acts as a buffer between the department and institutions.

Almost EUR6 million has been paid in allowances over the past few years and has been the subject of voluminous correspondence between UCD and the Authority. The issue recently came before the Public Accounts Committee of the Oireachtas (parliament) where a clearly exasperated HEA chief executive Tom Boland asked: "What part of 'no' does UCD not understand".

But for all the public posturing over the payments, it is believed that attempts are being made behind the scenes to defuse the separate rows before they develop any further.