Special Report 75:   Irish Universities ? Resource Management and Performance

Dublin Castle, 17 September 2010

The Comptroller and Auditor General, John Buckley, has today published a report on resource management and performance in the seven Irish universities.

The report deals with a range of matters, including

  • progress in achieving better information on the cost of activities
  • the changes in the organisation and delivery of teaching in recent years
  • arrangements for reviewing the quality of university outputs
  • remuneration and pension matters.

International comparisons suggest that Ireland?s universities are relatively efficient and highly regarded.

The report catalogues a variety of changes to the organisation of education services in recent years. These include

  • adopting the European Credit Transfer System to allow for credit accumulation and ease of transfer of students between universities in Ireland and abroad
  • supporting this with modularisation and semesterisation
  • providing in certain instances for more elective modules associated with core course content.

The evolution of teaching approaches is also documented.

The full deployment of an economic costing model should facilitate more informed management decision-making and allow for cost comparisons between universities and between activity areas. Universal reporting of time spent by academic staff on education, research and other activities is essential to underpin the effective functioning of this model. 

Up to 2006, a unit cost allocation model was used to distribute the core recurrent grant provided by the State. There were considerable delays in producing costings using this model. A new model was introduced in 2006 ? the Recurrent Grant Allocation Model (RGAM). It allocates available funding on a per capita basis taking account of weightings relating to the resource intensity of courses.  In 2009, 80% of the total funding provided by the Higher Education Authority was allocated for the running of universities through the RGAM. While the new model has been well advanced the full redistributive effect originally envisaged has not yet occurred. 

As part of the audit work, a number of instances were noted, where salary levels did not, at the point of payment, have ministerial sanction.  In some cases

  • remuneration of senior management exceeded levels approved
  • unapproved allowances were paid to certain senior staff and
  • certain performance related bonuses were paid without the required approval.

In general, steps have been taken to cease the extra payments from a current date.

Staff in universities are permitted to engage in consultancy work not exceeding 20% of working time. Improved arrangements for the monitoring, control and evaluation of this activity are desirable in order to ensure that value accrues to the university for the expenditure incurred.

Where certain professional or technical staff are unable to qualify for a pension based on 40 years service by retirement age, they can apply to have years added to their service for pension purposes. The adding on of additional years has become a feature of pension awards in universities.  The Attorney General advised that in certain instances, such awards may no longer be discretionary, in that, university staff may have become entitled to those enhanced benefits through statements made or commitments given to staff by universities. The Department of Education and Skills has indicated that work is underway to identify all sets of circumstances where de facto entitlement exists.

A practice exists whereby university governing authorities, appoint private sector auditors to carry out a full audit of their annual financial statements. To avoid unnecessary duplication and expense, the Comptroller and Auditor General derives audit assurances from those audits.  However, in order to ensure that the legislation relating to audit is fully complied with, certain adjustments are necessary to the current arrangements. In particular, more formal arrangements between the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, internally appointed auditors and the universities are necessary.  This could be achieved by including the appropriate terms in the appointment contracts of those auditors.

What happens to the Report?

The report is laid before Dáil ?reann and is available to inform examinations by the Committee of Public Accounts. The committee meets weekly and following the taking of evidence, issues its own report with recommendations to the Minister for Finance. The Minister responds outlining any administrative adjustments necessary to address its concerns.

Notes for Editors

The Comptroller and Auditor General is the constitutional officer with responsibility for the audit of public funds.  He is independent in the exercise of his functions and reports to Dáil ?reann in accordance with governing legislation.

The full text of this Report is available on the website of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General http://www.audgen.gov.ie/

For further information contact: Patricia Sheehan at (01) 603 1086 or Patricia_Sheehan@audgen.irlgov.ie