Following the revelations that the IUA increased their spending by almost €2million in 2009, Quinton O’Reilly examines the reaction to this news from UCD and IUA representatives
UCD Academic Staff Association
When presented with the information regarding spending of the IUA, a representative from UCD academic staff told The University Observer that he was “gobsmacked” about the figures.
He expressed concern that there was no notice within the university’s books that alluded towards their contribution to the IUA.
“I assume that everybody that’s employed there is getting paid wages coined from the universities but they’re not in the books of the universities so I’m not sure how, it’s almost like a union for presidents.”
While the IUA speak about openness and transparency in their website, the representative mentioned that they are protected from Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests due to their status as a limited company and are not answerable to them.
The representative mentioned that the board of directors were the presidents of each university and were therefore “not answerable to anybody by what I can see”.
He expressed concern at how although the IUA has little day-to-day involvement in the running of any universities, the Department of Education wanted them to be the employers instead of the Higher Education Authority (HEA), despite the Croke Park agreement being in place.
“I was a bit concerned to put it mildly,” he said. “That they were coming up with all my working conditions, my contract has to be torn up and here they’re saying they came from the IUA when they’re one and the same. [In a statement, they] said basically staff at UCD were not unsackable which of course no one ever said we were. My contract says that I can be sacked for all these reasons, but what those fellows want to do is sack you for no reason.”
The representative questioned the validly of the group saying: “They’re a fig leaf for anything the universities want to do but simply say, ‘well the Irish universities association has suggested this,’ despite the fact that it’s sitting around the table with only a few other people who do the suggesting. It’s bit of a surplus isn’t it?”
Ultimately, he believed that sooner or later, questions would be asked about the IUA and their role in Irish universities. “Now what exactly does the IUA do? That’s another question. So that’s why I was absolutely gobsmacked when I pulled down the numbers of the company registration office.”
When asked about what he thought about the university’s refusal to comment, he said, “silence speaks volumes”.
Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT)
The Secretary General of the IFUT, Mike Jennings, expressed his surprise when told that both income and expenditure increased to under €5 million in 2009.
He admitted that he could not explain where any of the funding the IUA received is allocated saying that “in so far as it’s an income and expenditure under the rubric of the IUA, I’m not sure. Obviously it must be more than the university presidents’s rebate but I’m not sure what part of the individual universities rebate [is going] to the IUA that is going to make that overall sum. It could do with a bit more transparency perhaps.”
Jennings stated that the organisation would be helpful if the IUA was called the Irish University Presidents’s Association instead as it would better inform people as to what the organisation is.
He explained that his understanding of the IUA was that they were an association function whose role is “primarily as a spokesperson for the presidents as opposed to being linked in to governing structures of the universities”.
“They are probably linked to similar organisations on a European and international scale,” said Jennings. “I don’t know if you’ve heard of the European Universities Association but it’s essentially just the presidents of the universities. Really, it’s a collective for the presidents.”
He said that alongside that role: “They don’t have any statutory function; they don’t have a body or governing board, which represents anybody else other than the university presidents as I understand it.”
While understanding why the presidents of each university would want to have a collective voice, Jennings felt that such an organisation undermined the concept of what a university should be.
“A university, by definition, is a collegiate entity; a university is the students, is the staff, is the institution. It’s sounds old-fashioned, but it absolutely should be still part of the ethos. A university, if it’s to be anything, it should be a community,” explained Jennings.
“The fact that it only reflects the views of the presidents of each institution seems to me to go against the principle of the collegiate notion and ethos of a university.”
Irish Universities Association
When asked about the cost of UCD’s subscription for the IUA, Chief Executive of the IUA, Ned Costello said: “The university subscriptions are essentially pro-rated to university size, so obviously UCD would contribute more than smaller universities.”
Costello told The University Observer that a collective body such as the IUA was more efficient at dealing with national issues that couldn’t be done by the universities themselves. “There’s kind of a tendency for the state and for government to kind of increasingly want to run the universities,” he explained. “And actually, you need people who kind of argue the toss of where the balance of control lies, which is something that we do.
“There’s an awful lot of the interface between the universities and the state, if I can put it like that, that simply has to be done collectively,” said Costello. “And the administrative overhead to the universities, if they were to respond individually and seriously to all these issues, would actually be far higher than having a body such as the IUA implement them.”
Costello stated that creating the IUA back in 1997 was a necessary for the universities to work together and tackle common issues, saying: “The relationship between the universities and the state was different than to what it is now.”
He referred to the Employment Control Framework from two years ago as an example of the roles the IUA played by “working collectively renegotiated that into something that was a lot more flexible and that’s something that, for example, UCD could not have gone in and done by itself.”
Costello justified the jump in expenditure during a recessionary period by claiming the cost of their projects had risen during that period.
When asked what those projects were, he referred to the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) and Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) schemes as well as Full Economic Costing, where they calculate the real running costs of a university, as examples.
When asked about the hiring of two extra administrative staff in 2009, Costello stated that the IUA would, if necessary, have to hire extra staff to properly run these projects.
“We have two support staff here out of the total 14 or 15 people that we have here, so I’m quite happy to say we’re extremely lean when it comes to admin staff; as in support staff,” stated Costello. “As regards whether hiring staff was appropriate or inappropriate, we’re contracted to run projects, so if we enter into a contract with the HEA to run projects on sectoral areas of major significance like full economic costing, then obviously we have to hire the staff to run the projects.”
He confirmed that their office premises located in Merrion Square is rented but declined to comment on how much it cost per annum.
Breakdown of IUA finances
Funding receivable: 4,841,846
Administrive expenses: 4,517,503
Number of administative staff: 15
Wages and salaries: 1,444,567
Social welfare costs: 107,341
Other pension costs: 113,131
Bank interest receivable: 116,798
Funding receivable: 2,893,100
Administration expenses: 2,912,894
Number of administrative staff: 13
Wages and salaries: 1,261,655
Social welfare costs: 81,183
Other pension costs: 87,870
Bank interest receivable: 104,656