Special Report 74: Education Sector Press Release

PRESS RELEASE: Comptroller and Auditor General Report on the Education Sector

The Comptroller and Auditor General, John Buckley, has today published a report on a range of issues arising out of financial audits of universities, institutes of technology and other bodies that received substantial State funding, ultimately borne on the Vote for the Office of the Minister for Education and Skills.

The audits reviewed, inter alia, the following

  • the application of the first cycle of funding allocated from the Strategic Innovation Fund, which is managed by the Higher Education Authority
  • the extent to which the National Educational Welfare Board responds to the educational welfare needs of students and is positioned to evaluate the effectiveness of its operations
  • the factors that gave rise to cost and time overruns on a capital development project at Cork Institute of Technology
  • the granting of an early retirement scheme by FETAC without the approval of the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister for Finance
  • the remuneration and expenses paid to the Director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music
  • the current estimate of the cost of redress to victims of abuse in residential institutions, and the extent to which the State indemnity has been invoked.

The key conclusions are as outlined below.

Strategic Innovation Fund

The funding of third level educational projects by the Strategic Innovation Fund should have been more directly linked to upfront identification of measurable outputs and outcomes. A good practice example of collaboration between institutions is the shared procurement service developed by the Shannon Consortium. However, overall, the full impact of collaboration between institutions in terms of improved efficiencies and shared resources has yet to materialise.

Monitoring School Attendance

In 2008/09, absences reported to the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) indicated that primary school students missed 11.5 days and post-primary students missed 13 days, on average. However, absence levels were under-reported. There is a gap between the number of pupils for whom intervention is required in relation to their attendance and the capacity of NEWB to respond and attendance reporting is neither comprehensive nor validated. A planned move to prioritisation based on real-time referrals should help to effectively identify ‘at risk’ pupils. The overall services relating to school attendance and participation are being reconfigured. This represents an opportunity to achieve a more joined-up approach to monitoring school participation.

Capital Development at Cork Institute of Technology

There was a 45% uplift in the cost of the construction of an Administration Building and a Student Centre in the main Cork Institute of Technology campus at Bishopstown and there are outstanding claims of €1.2 million in respect of the works. The form of contract used at the time left considerable risk with the Institute. A new form of contract which has been introduced, generally, since 2007, places a greater onus on the contractor to price for risks.

Early Retirement Scheme in FETAC

To facilitate the amalgamation of three bodies – NQAI, HETAC and FETAC – into a single entity, certain pension arrangements were entered into. The actuarial value of additional superannuation benefits granted to four FETAC staff who took early retirement was of the order of €800,000. The additional benefits did not have the required approvals from the Council of FETAC or the Minister and did not conform to the statutory authority governing them.

Royal Irish Academy of Music – Remuneration and Expenses

The remuneration of the Director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music is determined by the Academy’s Governing Body.

While the Governing Body acted within its legal competence, the Director’s overall remuneration package covered a range of separate functions. Although the time commitments involved were not full-time the agreed package – worth a total of over €225,000 – was higher than that of benchmarked post holders.

Because the Academy is a body in receipt of substantial State funding, there is an expectation that its expenditure should be broadly in line with public sector norms and that departures from public sector pay policy should be agreed with its overseeing Department before contractual arrangements are concluded.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme

The likely cost of the redress scheme for victims of abuse in residential institutions is now put at €1.1 billion. The bulk of the contribution of religious congregations agreed with the State has been provided by way of cash or property. While final title to 28 properties is still being established the transferees are in possession of them and all but seven properties have been brought into use.

The indemnity has cost the State €8 million in cases finalised to date. However, there is a contingent liability arising out of the fact that 157 cases are still awaiting resolution, but the majority of those cases may be resolved through the Redress Board process or have been inactive for a long period.

Notes for Editors

The Comptroller and Auditor General is an independent constitutional officer with responsibility for the audit of public funds. He reports to Dáil Éireann.

The full text of the report is available on the website of the Comptroller and Auditor General at www.audgen.gov.ie

For further information contact Chris Cassedy at (01) 603 1072 or via email at Chris_Cassedy @audgen.irlgov.ie