Comptroller and Auditor General on the Universities

The Comptroller and Auditor General released a special report on the resource management and performance of Irish universities.

The report is 161 pages long. One part attracted a lot of attention: pay (here, here, here and here). The solution is rather simple: Introduce a special tax, rated at 100%, for unauthorized payments.

The report is not just about pay, though. The title has “performance” and Appendix C is supposedly all about that, but it is not. It is a qualitative assessment of the procedures in place and planned. All is fine if there is a committee to discuss it and a report going forward. Measuring academic performance is not the core task of the C&AG, but they could have hired a consultant. The report does lament that the universities are so bad at collecting data (about themselves) that any quantitative assessment of value for money would be impossible.

The report also describes resource allocation, which is by and large driven by the number of students. Quantity over quality.

The scale of the system is telling too. There are 27 institutes of higher education in the Republic. Seven universities have a total of 100,000 students. When I joined Hamburg U, we had 40,000 students (and one university president), but we merged with a neighbouring IT to gain economies of scale.

63 replies on “Comptroller and Auditor General on the Universities”

Michael Hennigan will be happy that you posted this as he requested a thread on this topic saying that it is important to confront the sacred cows in our midst. Whether you posted it because of the request or independent of that, it is good to see this blog and the light of the internet being used to inform the public of the issues the C&AG’s office has raised about the university sector.

There are a few things about this report. As noted it doesn’t really measure outputs in any way other than counting students. It seems to have great interest in the utilisation of classrooms, which is not an important part of the big picture.

In relation to pay, there are administrators at the top paying themselves extremely large salaries, in keeping with the mood in Ireland in those years. There is no evidence that these people did anything to improve universities that would not have taken place in any case.

Then there are a large number of allowances and the like. The report states “Universities have authority to determine the number and grading of their staff. However, the remuneration of each grade is determined with the approval of the Minister”. The upshot of this is that you can promote someone and thereby ensure they are paid a higher salary for the rest of their working lives and a higher pension thereafter. But you cannot pay someone an allowance for taking on a head of department role or the like for a few years. Having micromanagement of the latter situation is inappropriate.

The last point is that Irish universities have weak governance structures, better for them to have stronger governance, but less direct control from government.

Interesting. Coincidentally, I was talking to a befriend Professor in Italy last Night, he faces the situation that the budgets he has for his PhD Students are cut to ridiculous levels, and as a result the students are fighting amongst themselves.

Just curious, how is that in Ireland?

Of course, I am aware that this depends probably on the department.

“better for them to have stronger governance, but less direct control from government.”
Here here. At the ultimate (which i dont advocate necessarily) privatisation would remove the issues here. As we stand, theres a lot of material in this report, most of which its hard to disagree with
One point I would query is the issue of appointing people “up the scale”. This is common, and needed, to attract people. Scoff ye may but sometimes people bargain – if they have been judged the best person to be a Senior Lecturer in BasketWeaving, then they are so judged and the appointing board/dept usually has some discretion as to the point on the scale to offer. Then people bargain. And a deal is struck. If we want to appoint people that’s the way it is. This is separate from whether the scale is itself too high at the mean or not.

On some of the posters made elsewhere
“Is this ‘crony academicism’?. How does it differ from the ‘crony capitalism’ they are always going on about? In the company I am employed in (an evil American multi-national company), this would not be tolerated. There are strict rules to ensure that senior managers can’t simply give jobs to their friends.”

Indeed. Just like, oh, let me see now, whatretheycalled, universities, that’s it. Believe me JtO if we could do that it would make out life more pleasant but not more productive. As someone who has, unlike, for instance, you, sat as member and chair of many promotion and appointment committees, the first, last and only criteria (at least where I have seen which is TCD and its broad peers here and elsewhere) is academic competence. Why we even have guidelines and unlike private companies are subject to FOI and the candidate has an absolute right to get the detailed scores The HR depts. Would in a flash disallow anything else and quite right too. What RT noted is a well known sociological phenomena – all things being equal people go with people they know. The key is ATBE.

JtO Again
“I’d say that in Ireland there are quite a few useless faculties and departments, that may be hiding behind the reasonably high overall university rankings. The UCD Department of Sociology for starters, which really should be renamed the UCD Department of Socialism, since many of its senior staff appear to waste more time and taxpayers’ money in ridiculous attempts to foment revolution than in serious research.”

Well…the contempt for the leading school of sociology in ireland is just dripping off that I suggest. Coming from someone who has noted they work for a company which a quick google of + sociology indicates is deeply involved in the modern sociological process, this is startling. Can I suggest JtO that you take a moment to glance at the UCD school of Scoiology Website. I suspect you confuse the school with Dr Kieran Allen…Id be rather surprised at anyone calling Paddy Clancy, Chris Whelan, Rob Stokes etc raving socialists. Kieran would probably be happy to be so described.

“The scale of the system is telling too. There are 27 institutes of higher education in the Republic. Seven universities have a total of 100,000 students. When I joined Hamburg U, we had 40,000 students (and one university president), but we merged with a neighbouring IT to gain economies of scale.”
Unspoken in your analyses throughout is that there are unrealised economies of scale, and probably scope, in the irish system. I suspect the same – however, im not aware of any studies on this in the irish context. Wherever else the issue has been analysed, as far as scopus tells me, the results are very indicative of strong research scale economies, good scope economies especially at undergraduate level, and some evidence of scope economies in teaching. As I say, the issue however is not the rational or rationale from economic analysis – its small and large p politics.

Payments that are ‘ultra vires’ should be claimed back from the people who sanctioned them.

The argument about having to pay for the best talent and blah blah can be made but when presidents can effectively pay themselves double-digit increases in succesvive years, it’s at the same level as the bogus rationalisation for benchmarking payments.

A billion euros is quite an annual payroll in this small economy; there have been some reductions since 2007/08 but wouldn’t there want to be with annual tax receipts of just €31bn.

The European Commission found that Ireland, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands were always at or close to what it termed the production possibility frontier which measures the degree to which output is maximised in terms of resources used. In Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands this was mainly due to good performance in scientific production whereas Ireland attained its position due to the graduation rate.

In secondary school, I found the teachers generally a depressing lot; life at UCC may have improved since the 1970s. I had some involvement with 35 lecturers over 6 years and maybe about 5 at most, could be termed inspiring.

Dan O’Brien says

“Next Tuesday will provide the biggest test yet. The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) has committed to putting at least €1 billion worth of Irish Government bonds up for auction. If there were to be any serious problem with take-up, or if the rate of return offered were much above already high rates in the secondary market, real consideration would have to be given to seeking help.”


“Thankfully, the Government is sitting on a very large cash cushion, so it won’t be forced into any decisions even if in the unlikely event that its usual bond customers don’t buy on Tuesday and in the months to come.”

Anybody spot the contradiction?

When I read that the confusion between Anglo and AIB because of their initials is a factor in bond yields I can well believe that the domestic chorus towards default is really damaging.

Who is in the chorus? Maybe not Labour, but FG are so indecisive in this space they are certainly are part of the problem. The media for sure. Academics for sure. John McHale seems a rarity in this blog as being an academic prepared to attempt objective assessment of this crisis.

I suppose Cowengate didn’t help either.

Can anyone explain why a grade 3 DIT lecturer in the Republic is on a higher salary scale than a grade 1 lecturer in for example – queen’s University?

Richard, you can say quite a lot about resource utilisation in Irish universities without any data at all. This is a piece I wrote in the current issue of the Farmers Journal.

‘Several institutions around the world now produce league tables of universities, and the presidents of our own universities have taken to issuing statements each time a new ranking is released. They appear to place a degree of credence in these league tables, whose methodologies are controversial and differ substantially, which is not shared by professional statisticians. The statisticians tend to be sceptical about the current craze for ‘objective’ rankings and alert to the measurement difficulties. It is easy to conclude that Shamrock Rovers currently lead the League of Ireland (just take a look at the newspaper). It is another task entirely to judge that the university in Cork is better than the one in Galway.

The enthusiasm of the university presidents for these league tables may have something to do with the fact that, until recently, the ranking of the Irish universities seemed to be improving. The good news could be accompanied by statements attributing this happy development to the sterling efforts of all concerned, and suggesting that extra university funding would pay off even better. But lo and behold, the news that Trinity College (amongst others) had slipped in the most recent ranking was used by its Provost (president to you and me) on RTE radio last week to argue for, er, extra university funding! The logic should be clear to you. If the universities’ rankings improve, this shows that extra funding is paying off. If they worsen, then obviously they need more money. Conveniently, there is no outcome to the regular rankings which might indicate that funding is about OK, or maybe even too much. Any notion that university management need to do what everyone else has to do (achieve more with less) simply does not arise.

There is a lot more that can be done though. The universities opened again for business (teaching students, mainly) this week after a break from mid-May in most cases. Even the Dail manages to put in a longer working year. Of course it is important to give staff time to pursue their research interests, but do you have to close up shop entirely to achieve this?

Not one of the Irish universities runs twelve months of the year. There is rather a lot of expensive plant lying around, not just from May to September but with several other breaks along the way. It is increasingly common internationally for universities to try to use plant more intensively. This means an extra term during the Summer months, permitting students to complete courses more quickly and avoiding the need to add expensive buildings whenever student numbers rise. It also means plenty of evening and night courses, particularly for city-centre universities located conveniently for part-time students and indeed for part-time lecturers. There are city-centre universities which even start lectures in the early morning, so that part-time students can take classes before as well as after work. One such is Concordia in central Montreal, which knows how to sweat the assets. The City University in London is another which exploits its location to good effect.

Of all the Irish colleges, the one best located to offer part-time courses along these lines
is none other than Trinity. It sits (serenely, in fairness) at the centre of the Dublin transport system, bang in the middle of the city. And guess what? There is virtually no evening or night degree programme on offer. And of course no Summer term. I hope I am not picking on Trinity here, the others are not much better, but TCD is uniquely placed to show the way in delivering higher productivity from its asset base. Instead, the universities have been carping at the cutbacks we all know to be unavoidable and even demanding an extra capital budget for more buildings. Utilisation of existing buildings is so poor that this particular demand should not be entertained.

The essence of good operational management is getting extra productivity out of existing resources, or of achieving the same output with less. There are large parts of the Irish public sector which whine constantly about funding constraints, as if productivity improvement were simply unthinkable, or not a management responsibility. This seems to be a constant refrain in both the health and education sectors. But it would not be accepted as a management strategy in the private sector, for the simple reason that budget constraints are for real. They are becoming pretty real in the public sector too. Any public sector managers who sincerely believe that additional resources, current or capital, are likely to be available to them over the next few years are likely to be disappointed.

The government has established a commission to inquire into third-level education under the chairmanship of economist Colin Hunt. Its report will be released within the next few weeks and it will be interesting to see what it has to say on resource utilisation in our universities.’

Your suggestions seem sensible, but do you think that the management are more concerned about any ROACE measure than on granting themselves unauthorized payments?

The internal incentive structure in Irish universities does not neccesssarily encourage initiatives to provide courses for part time students etc. If you work on a paper then you get promoted, if you launch a new part time programme then everyone says it is a good thing, but you don’t get promoted. In general, in the absence of meaningful fees there isn’t much incentive generally to meet demand.

Just waiting for a FAS type Radio interview with one of the University bosses,
Probably to do with expenses, first class flights or something.
Few heads roll and then business as usual.
Change Irish style…..

Dearg Doom
“If you work on a paper then you get promoted, if you launch a new part time programme then everyone says it is a good thing, but you don’t get promoted. In general, in the absence of meaningful fees there isn’t much incentive generally to meet demand.”

That’s not the case in TCD at least.

Advancement beyond the merit bar (within the lecturer scale)

“In order to proceed beyond the Merit Bar a Lecturer shall demonstrate good performance in both teaching and research. He/she shall also provide evidence of satisfactory performance of College administrative duties and may provide evidence of contributions to the discipline and/or the community. Lecturers seeking accelerated advancement within the Lecturer scale shall demonstrate exceptional performance in both teaching and research and in contributions to the College, the discipline or the community.”

Advancement to Senior Lecturer

“Lecturers who wish to be considered for promotion to the grade of Senior Lecturer should demonstrate very good performance in at least two of the following areas; teaching, research, service to College and service to the discipline or community (one of which must be teaching or research). Consideration will also be given to the case for promotion by an applicant who demonstrates excellent performance in either teaching or research and at least good performance in the two remaining areas. Senior Lecturers who wish to be considered for accelerated advancement within the Senior Lecturer scale shall demonstrate performance in both teaching and research which is well above the average for the grade. The committee may take into consideration unusually active contributions to College, the discipline or the community.”

The weightings for these are Research/Scholarship 33%, Teaching 33%, Service to College 17%, Service to discipline 17%

What are these then?
“3.1 Research is any or all of the following:
• the discovery, creation or critical development of new facts, ideas, theories or processes
that advance knowledge or result in works of artistic accomplishment.
• the integration of the above into new syntheses
• the application of new discoveries, creations, developments or syntheses to activities
outside the university that are in consequence conducted differently
• the publication or dissemination by other methods of any of the above for the purpose of
education or informing a wider public
3.2 Teaching is the conversion of knowledge in the relevant discipline or field of study
derived from research as defined above into a reciprocal process of education and learning. It may include any or all of the following:
• the introduction of the concepts, methods, and subject matter of the discipline or field of study in a manner which stimulates those taught and enables them to engage with the knowledge in a critical and independent manner appropriate to the level at which they have been taught
• curriculum design, instruction, assessment, and the creation of a social and academic
environment that promotes learning
• initiation into research by supervision or dissertations or other research projects at the
appropriate level.”

Demonstration of these qualities comes via external reviewers, who cant be “closely connected” to one, and in general are best sourced from outside these islands. And teaching requires, in effect a teaching portfolio plus student reviews.

I cant talk for elsewhere but : in TCD someone who is a lecturer, who wants to be promoted, needs to show that they are at least average teachers and ideally more than that as well as very good researchers.

On economies of scale, all universities big and small must have the trappings of a real university: a grand building, a president, committee for this and that, a library. If you merge two universities, you can get rid of half of that.

Ditto for departments. A larger department is also more diversified and therefore more robust to pregnancy, retirement and so on. A larger department can also offer a wider variety of courses. This is good for the students, but also good for the professors as they can teach things that are closer to their interest and expertise, so that they would be better teachers which is good for the students.

And if the core curriculum is carried by more people, you can afford to diversify into other products — evening classes, summer schools, retirement education, multidisciplinary programmes.

@Colm McCarthy

I wonder if you were as vocal about “efficiency” when your university was squandering millions on consultants, further millions on emoluments for the Senior Management Team as documented in the C&AG’s report and still further millions on the pharaonic boondoggle known as the Gateway Project?. Or is efficiency only about what you describe, in a revealing turn of phrase, as “sweating the assets” (aka: teaching staff)?

By the way, I have to laugh when I read UCD President Hugh Brady’s response (section 4.7 of the C&AG’s report) as to why these high allowances were paid to management staff:

The President noted that universities including UCD compete for a highly mobile international talent pool and are recognised as key drivers of economic development. He stated that Ireland would not be able to compete successfully for jobs if its universities were not competitive with international universities.

Excuse me? Is there even a single member of the Senior Management Team at UCD, from the President on down to the lowliest Vice-President for Lawnmowing, that has been recruited internationally? Indeed, how many of them have been recruited from outside UCD? Certainly not Hugh Brady who, after sitting on the presidential search committee that made such noise about how “this time would be different” and that the search would be “international in scope”, quit the committee in order to put forward his candidacy. Did someone say something about “cronyism”?

Of course the part of the university staff that is “highly mobile internationally” are the lecturers, who have been victimised in all of this: subject to inane beancounting regimes (the AAP form used for so-called “Full Economic Costing” is inane and incomprehensible) and excessive bureaucracies that have in no way improved the quality of teaching or research only to find themselves now tarred with the excesses of those same bureaucrats.

@Brian Lucey

At UCD, no external reviewers are used for promotion purposes. I’ve served on promotion committees and far from the researcher having to prove that they are “very good researchers”, all that they have to prove is that they have published a certain number of articles. Nobody reads the articles, which will only fall into a committee member’s field of expertise by chance. Instead, they count them: so and so has published enough, this other one hasn’t. It’s mindless and anti-intellectual in the extreme.

But that mindset–the one professed by many on this blog and that holds that all must be quantifiable and measurable–is the real enemy here. You can’t measure what’s valuable, so you value what’s measurable and for purely ideological reasons. This report embraces that ideology in spades, alas.

And while the main lesson that the press should be taking from the report is clearly that Senior Management in the universities, as in so many other areas of Irish life, is utterly corrupt and self-serving–as many of us working at the chalkface have been insisting for years–it is clear that that is not how this report will be spun. Instead, it will be more demonisation of lecturers (who are public servants and therefore already have stubby little horns and pointy tails as far as the public are concerned) as lazy layabouts who are overpaid. Never mind that the waste is almost entirely the fault of those in management. Never mind that lecturers have seen their pay cut and their workloads increased in a haphazard and sometimes egregious manner thanks to the hiring freeze. The thought that somewhere a lecturer might not be working all the hours that god sends requires a crackdown! Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain frittering away millions on self-aggrandizing projects and yes men.

And I have to laugh @Michael Hennigan who found his lecturers uninspiring and who thinks the solution to that is to ride herd on lecturers capitalist-stylee and make them feel the sting of the market forces. But, then, that’s his answer to everything, isn’t it?

While much of your post represents an approach and concerns that I agree with, it’s a tad devalued by the anti measurement rant in the middle:

“that mindset–the one professed by many on this blog and that holds that all must be quantifiable and measurable–is the real enemy here. You can’t measure what’s valuable, so you value what’s measurable and for purely ideological reasons”

It’s possible that the University committees are measuring the wrong thing and that good lecturers are being passed over because others publish lots of crap or because the universities are beds of corruption, but one of Ireland’s problems is that too little is actually measured beyond the relational proximity between people….a point you mention and that I’m strongly inclined to agree with. Measurement is a good thing.

For all its faults and for all that it should be measuring more parameters, the Irish points system – for example – is at least not corrupt. Again, measurement is a good thing. Imagine if University access were to be done the usual Irish way! Aren’t there attempts to bring “interviews” into several courses? Should one really believe that the interview process will not be an Irish-style stitch up? Measurement is a good thing, but you do have to be careful what you measure.

Meantime, don’t forget that governments get to decide what products there should be a market in and market forces exist only in those areas and not all markets are spot markets. Bringing market forces to bear on the University sector and on the teaching and managerial staff might be a very good thing indeed. The good and effective would perhaps make more money and the bad and ineffective would make less.

I agree with the argument that universities need to be doing more in the summer, but I dont think that trimesterisation is the way to go.

(Trimesterisation being 3 trimesters of 12 conventional teaching week, with 3 attendant weeks for things like exams).

Instead, university departments could organize a summer “trimester” comprised of “block-weeks” classes. ( a block week meaning a full week of lectures and classes dedicated to one subject. )

As it is, there are lots of 1 or 2 week summer programs run by Irish universities. For international students, UL runs a two week “Irish culture and literature” course twice during the summer.
For incoming mature students, many colleges run access programs to improve basic maths skills.
For postgrads students, TCD and NUIM ran the “Network Maths” program; a series of four one-week courses in advanced maths and stats over the past three summers. There might have even been a few lecturers at that.

I can expand on this idea more if anyone is interested.

@Ernie’s “But that mindset–the one professed by many on this blog and that holds that all must be quantifiable and measurable–is the real enemy here.”

You’re simply wrong in this statement. Nobody here claims that all can be quantifiable. Moreover, I imagine most contributors here would (at least in private) also complain about university bureaucracies, Chief Operating Officers and the like.

The argument that that which can be measured should be is different, and you know it.

Ferdinand von Prondzynski (who recently completed his term as DCU President) comments on the C&AG report here.

Extract:… I will say that the current rules don’t make sense. They prohibit payments outside of public service salary scales. This makes it very difficult to recruit competitively and to reward performance, but ironically they have this effect in particular when it comes to ‘ordinary’ staff, whether academic or support staff. They can be more easily circumvented when it comes to very senior staff.

On salaries, remember the controversy when the bust AIG wanted to pay retention bonuses to staff including the in-house cook as the firm needed to keep the ‘talent’ in the unit that doomed the then 80-year old firm?

Von Prondzynski says: “There should be appropriate remuneration committees with independent members that undertake this task – doing so will make universities more competitive, but will also ensure integrity in the process. Right now we appear to have the worst of all worlds.

Independent members?

The best way to ensure the desired outcome is to follow the template of the Irish Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector and ensure that most of the members earn multiples of top earning academics or if retired, are multimillionaires. That would ensure the desired perspective on relative poverty.

In money terms, from an Irish angle, there appears to be 2 markets for academics: Europe and the US.

Money is a big issue in the US including for the left-leaning academics: Krugman is a former adviser to Enron and Stiglitz always appears to be flogging a book.

No top tier US academic would move to Ireland on a full-time basis and the compromise likely is a treble-jobbing ‘fly-in’ expat who may lend a name to a faculty but contribute little.

A perceived ‘successful’ US academic would have too many side earnings that would make a move costly.

As for Europe, are Irish salaries among Europe’s highest?

The European University Institute has a table here with 2004 data for Ireland compared with 2007 data for other countries.

A business school should be able to hire people with direct relevant experience of working in a world-class company but it should fund such salaries from its fee income.

According to the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2010, the annual cost per student at tertiary level ex R&D activities, in 2006, in equivalent USD converted using PPPs for GDP was $8.4k in Ireland, $8.0 in France, $7.9k in Finland and $9.7k in the UK.

The rapid expansion of the tertiary sector has put Japan and Korea in the top group together with Canada and the OECD’s partner country the Russian Federation with over 50% of the 25-24 cohort having attained tertiary education.

Ireland is at 45% and Germany at 35%.

France has increased its percentage of young adults with college degrees by 13 percentage points in the last 10 years whereas Germany’s output of college graduates has hardly budged, yet the economic growth rate of Germany has exceeded that of France over this same period. 

Annual expenditure on educational institutions per student in primary through tertiary education was higher in Ireland than in Finland, Korea and New Zealand, countries with high PISA assessment scores for 15-year olds.

Public institutions in the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) and in the Czech Republic and Ireland do not charge tuition fees.

@ Brian Lucey


On teaching, I’m sure you would agree that a sociopath could produce good course material.

How is lecturing technique assessed – – putting a youngish undercover plant in the theatre?

In a previous thread, you wrote “So much for the centuries-old conception of the university as devoted above all to the pursuit of disinterested knowledge and truth.” Now you argue against quantification.

The days are long gone since universities were where the sons of the upper class would sit idle while pretending to think deep thoughts.

Universities educate a large fraction of young people, conduct a substantial share of fundamental research, and receive a generous public subsidy. Universities should be held to account.

Paragraph should read: The rapid expansion of the tertiary sector has put Japan and Korea in the top group together with Canada and the OECD’s partner country the Russian Federation with over 50% of the 25-34 cohort having attained tertiary education.

The ultimate economy of scale is a few Universities in the world, all delivering over the web!

Bye bye lecturing, hello research! At some levels, competition is wasteful of resources.

Horizontal amalgamation?

Bye, bye Mickey Morimbh Poly!

Australian Unis charge heavily susidized fees for courses and loan the full amount, repayable according to subsequent income over a certain level. The Govt pays all students a living dole. For Education and nursing students, the state pays maybe $20,000 in excess opf fees over the course. It is slightly less for most degrees and for law/med courses, the fees slightly exceed the dole.

We are a communist country, comrades! But unlike Russia, we can afford it, for the moment!

@Hugh Sheehy:
“It’s possible that the University committees are measuring the wrong thing and that good lecturers are being passed over because others publish lots of crap or because the universities are beds of corruption […].”

I’m pretty sure that they are measuring the wrong thing: they seem to focus on the individual production operative rather than on the product that is sold to the customer.

I am struck by the extent to which the public is critical of the quality and quantity of outputs provided in traditional service industries where operatives (called “professionals”) have insisted on continuing to perform as individual craft workers while having their privileges, pay, conditions (or some combination thereof) protected by the state. But more to the point, they use the state to maintain their operational independence without taking on individual responsibility for output quality or quantity.

Lawyers, doctors, teachers, nurses, university lecturers: all respectable occupations for the “sons of the upper class”, as Richard put it, but all insisting on the industrial organisational methods of the middle ages. Lawyers, admittedly, can be sued and aren’t employees of the state, but they do seem to maintain anti-competitive practices.

The public tends to focus on relatively unimportant questions of remuneration; the operatives and their unions accept criticisms of service quality but place the blame on “bureaucrats”, “managerialism” and so on. Furthermore, they sell the story that higher cost (more public money) is what’s needed, an attitude that the public does not accept in the markets for groceries, electronic goods and flights.

I suspect that more “managerialism” is what’s needed, with a shift of focus to the product (as purchased by the eighteen-year-old), with more attention to content, design, delivery, outcome measurement and cost reduction.


@Brian Lucey

It was Richard Tol who said on the other thread:

“Third, academics hire one another. Knowing people is as important as performing well.”

If true, this is cronyism. If not true, take the matter up with Richard Tol.

Re GIS software. Any company producing this will sell to whomsoever wants it. Including lots to various militaries round the world. That doesn’t mean that I think spending lots of taxpayers’ money to increase military spending is a good idea. What benefit exactly do taxpayers in Ireland get from their expenditure on Kieran Allen’s salary?

@ Ernie

Please, less tears in the cornflakes
You have good points to make but debase them with adolesecent emotions

I don’t agree with Kieran Allen’s political analysis but I think you’re criticism of him by name while at the same time refusing to reveal your real name to the readers of this site is just disgraceful. In terms of publishing Kieran is one of the most productive sociologists in the country and as many of my students also do Kieran’s modules I know that they find him to be a really engaging teacher. Any reader with time on their hands can find out all about what the tax payers of Ireland get in return for my salary by googling me (unfortunately I am not the glamarous NBC reporter) or looking me up on the UCD website. Who are you JohnTheOptimist? You seem very keen on transparency for others, why not yourself?


JTO again:

Is this ‘crony academicism’?. How does it differ from the ‘crony capitalism’ they are always going on about? In the company I am employed in (an evil American multi-national company), this would not be tolerated. There are strict rules to ensure that senior managers can’t simply give jobs to their friends.

A friend of mine who taught in the UK (in a ‘ranked’ university) told me that as a general rule spouses are not allowed to be recruited into departments where the other spouse has a professorial position. Professors don’t employ their husbands or wives for fear of being accused of cronyism and conflicts of interest. I have no idea whether this is generally true or just an anecdote. What’s the position in Ireland? Are husband and wife teams common in academic departments? I notice that TDs and Ministers can no longer employ the wife or husband in as cavalier a fashion as before.

I know of one multinational where a senior executive had a relationship with a junior staff member (not an extramarital affair) and his bosses were so concerned by the suggested indiscipline (implied cronyism) that they contemplated firing him.

Couple appointments are not uncommon and there is nothing wrong with that.

The Combes/Linnemer/Visser paper I refer to above is about academic relationships, and how well-connected people need fewer publications to obtain a similar appointment.

@ Michelle Norris

It was Brian Lucey who had first referred to Kieran Allen.

I was unfamiliar with him but having looked at the opening paragraphs of ‘The Corporate Takeover of Ireland’ on Amazon, what struck me was that while his analysis of the motivations of Big Pharma may have been correct, here was a guy with a guaranteed salary each month and one of the best pensions in the world.

What would UCD or Ireland be without these firms?

I have worked in multinationals and I know what is right and wrong. I also know that the likes of Allen are in priviliged positions who have the luxury of not having to worry about his income or pension – – simply having guaranteed meal tickets for life.

He is right to advocate what he believes as I am to dissent.

No, it was JtO that dragged Dr Allen into it. I find it strange that you are arguing even obliquely that KA (and by extension all the rest of the academic community) should stay stum and not dare critique their “betters” (i know, thats my word for my interpretation of your view). To sneer at him for having a meal ticket for life is pretty much below you also – its called Tenure, and is an essential part of any academic community. Else, academics are terribly vulnerable to passing political whims.

@Michael Hennigan:

Nobody stopped you from busting your ass on low pay to get a PhD and then possibly work years as a post-doc before getting into a tenured position. I find your resentment of tenured and pensionable positions hard to understand. As your idealization of all things corporate.

Whatever about MH’s attitude to tenure, should we all agree that it’s not on for University staff – tenured or not – to be giving unapproved payments to themselves? If it’s unapproved, then whose money was it? Did I make those payments? Does it come out of my pocket?

As for the idea that tenure is a protection against political whim, I think we should make it clear which politics we’re talking about here. National, or university?

Those payments came out of the taxpayers’ pocket.

There is nothing wrong with tenure. In fact, it is much harder to get tenure in a university than a permanent contract in the rest of the public sector and indeed the private sector.


tenure is an interesting concept. The Cabinet can decide to sack an extablised Civil Servant for misconduct. A judge cannot removed, I understand. Where on that continuum does a university lecture’s tenure sit. Underwhat coircumstances can tenure be negated?

I had kinda gathered that I was being generous to university staff, apparently without realising it. I wonder if I’ll get my money back. Time to hold my breath?

Also, important to note that “Permanent” contracts in the private sector are far from being permanent contracts. There’s a distinction between a “permanent” contract and a temporary contract, but it’s never permanent as a civil servant would recognize it.

Courage is essential to truth. Tenure may help some people to be brave, but it’s no guarantee.

Tenure is a feature of top universities throughout the world. It is unrelated to the payment of allowances, these originate from administrators, not in relation to tenured academic posts.

As to the general question of performance. Academics are well enough paid and should be expected to perform high level workthat uses their specific expertise. The real performance problem in Irish universities is that academic time is perceived as free. It is regarded as an “economy” if some routine clerical work can be passed from the administration to academics. Academic performance is measured research output, student evaluation and a variety of accreditions and external reviews. The increasing managerialism is subject to no such oversight. Universities exist to conduct teaching and research, anyone who does not do these things is useful only to the extent that they facilitate someone else teaching or researching. Now there are long established admin roles which facilitate student registration, exams and the like and these have a clear and useful role. But the growth of centralist management has brought into existence a group of people who are an obstacle to the purpose of a unviersity, but who claim credit for the work of others. Given the enthusiasm for measurement, no doubt these managers would be happy to be assessed by those who actually work as to whether they are any help or not, just as teachers can be assessed as to whether they help students learn. Oddly enough though there is no measurement of the performance of management whatsoever.

@dearg doom:
Your focus is on individual work and performance: the university as a set of facilities to enable individual academics to do their thing. But that approach may not provide the greatest efficiency in delivery of the products that the customers want.


Individual performance is necessary, pointless administration that reduces individual performance is unlikely to advance overall performance. However student feedback, external accreditation and review is not just concerned with individual performance, but also with programme performance. While owned by the State, universities are in competition with each other and with similar institutions in NI, Britain and elsewhere. The student can choose, universities are an internationally traded service.

@dearg doom:
“pointless administration that reduces individual performance is unlikely to advance overall performance.”

So said the weavers, dragged from their cottages to the new factories.

Student feedback, external accreditation and review are not market measures of demand. And universities seem to compete by trying to do the same things as each other does, but not more cheaply. The removal of all state funding, and the removal of students from campuses for undergraduate education, might promote more radical thinking.


I think the aggegation of weaving into factories at the start of the 19th century has little or no relevance to this discussion. We are not talking about the abolition of hedge schools and their inclusion in campuses, this happened long ago. Irish universities are already an efficient provider of services, especially since some of the excess noted have been discontinued. If only the Irish private sector was as good, the country would not be in the mess it is in.

@ Brian Lucey/Garo/Richard Tol

I am not against tenure.

It’s an important protection against political interference at some levels of the public service and in the universities.

It does not of course imply infallibility nor a likelihood that people with such protection would take a stand against the prevailing conventional wisdom, as was so evident during the bubble period or today, for an insider to take a contrarian position on the harebrained ‘smart economy’ project.

I don’t know what ‘betters’ suggests; I have been writing commentary on what can be regarded as ‘sacred cows’ for years e.g. anti-trade farming lobbies, fee ‘cartels’ in the protected private sector, political misgovernance, the shameful gulf between private pension coverage and that in the public sector, sham benchmarking, shambolic lucky-dip decentralisation and so on.

Some views maybe applauded, others dismissed as rubbish.

I have never been angling to be on some board or taskforce and so on.

We are all limited by our range of life experiences and it shouldn’t be taboo to question that in the context of robust argument that is put in the public domain.

Yes, Tenure is essential to truth.

It would be good to see more of it and while the anti-establishment space is now a very crowded one, there will be no reason to use the W.BYeats line: All changed, changed utterly, as the portents of a return to business as usual remain strong.

Conservative Ireland still rules.

@Michelle Norris

Why should Kieran Allen be immune from attack? He’s not some non-partisan academic. He’s an active politician for the Socialist Workers Party and has stood as their election candidate. FF and FG politicians are attacked frequently on this site, why shouldn’t a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party be attacked? Both Kieran Allen and the SWP wish to overthrow democracy in Ireland and establish a marxist state. As if this wasn’t enough, they have also opposed the Good Friday Agreement, wish to re-ignite conflict in the north, and have attacked Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness for ‘selling out to imperialism’ by embracing the peace process. Of course, Ireland is a democracy and people can hold whatever loony views they wish. But, I don’t think that employing such political crazies is a good use of hard-working taxpayers’ money.

Re the anonymity issue, it is a red herring and has been dealt with on other threads. The vast majority of posters on the site do not use their real names. Just scanning the posts on this thread, is ‘The Alchemist’ his (or possibly her) real name?, ‘Al’ is hardly very revealing, while I doubt if ‘Brian J Goggin’ is really the guy who used to run a bank.

I do not intend to offer a view on the substantive issues discussed in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report. However it is worth noting that while the report was produced under the value for money jurisdiction under s.9 of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act 1993 (assessment of economy and efficiency of expenditure), the matters within the report which have garnered attention relate to the more traditional audit functions and in particular assessing whether expenditures were authorised. Indeed, in those parts of the report which are ostensibly concerned with value for money, and notably the organisation of teaching, the report concludes that:
‘There would be merit in evaluating the various initiatives in the area of teaching and learning in order to determine their potential contribution to improving learning outcomes, achieving cost-effective delivery and extending access and retention.’
Whose job is it to assess whether public services are delivered in cost-effective fashion? The Comptroller and Auditor General.
So, whilst some of the right questions are asked for a value for money audit, the report appears remarkably thin on evaluations. At the end of report the reader is none the wiser as to whether expenditure on universities is money well spent.

Very true. The C&AG are not set-up to do value-for-money, but they did not hire a consultant either. They do note, however, that the universities are very bad at collecting data which would cause difficulties to any evaluation.

Note that the universities are not unique in this respect. Resistance to value-for-money studies is widespread in the civil service.

@John the Optimist:
I can assure you that my name is, and has always been, Brian J Goggin. I am not in any way related to the retired banker (as far as I know. But if he’s seeking long-lost cousins to whom he can leave his millions, I’m sure something can be arranged).


@dearg doom:
The point is the change from individual service-providers to managed providers of labour integrated in a production process. That change has yet to happen in many service industries, including education, where most of the service delivery seems to resemble that of the hedge school: consumers are required to assemble and get talked at. With most of the power (at least of resistance) left in the hands of individual education operatives, there has been and will be no major change in the service delivery process; what’s needed is more and stronger managers and process engineers.


Michelle has a point. As you are anonymous, you should be reluctant to name other people as they cannot return the favour.

A common complaint on this site is that academic economists were largely invisible during the build-up of the mess we’re now in. People say things like: Why did they not warn us? They are paid by public money! (Truth is, university professors are paid to teach and to research, rather than to help run the country, but despite that they did warn but were ignored.)

Well, Kieran Allen is active. That is his right. As long as it does not interfere with his primary duties, all is fine. The fact that you disagree with his political views is immaterial.


While you have a point, my email, required to post on the site identifies my person and from that if someone could be bothered, my occupation.
I dont seek to set a standard here, except for poor humour or bad sarcasm.
I enjoy your postings and you like to tackle people here just as much as the ball. Fair enough, but allow a tackle back.
Rather than getting in to the who is JTO thing, I suggest that the proper thing to do is more ball less man?



I wasn’t criticising you for not using your full name. I was simply pointing out that most posters here don’t, and gave a few random examples. It is not an issue for most people. Your’s just happened to be one of the first I spotted above where I was typing. My email address also identifies me to the site organisers, as I should imagine everybody’s does. And, I gave my occupation on a thread last week. Although, unless one is a public figure, which I am not, I should imagine posters’ real names and occupations mean nothing to and are of no interest to the site organisers.

I don’t think Kieran Allen’s views should be immune from attack – in fact I personally don’t agree with most of his views on for instance social partnership. However I intrepreted your questioning – ‘what does the government get in return for KA’s salary?’ – as an attack on him personally, on his work rate as a teacher and researcher, which is a whole different ballgame and is unacceptable in my view, especially in view of the fact that (as far as I know) you have no experience of either.

@Michelle Norris

I certainly wasn’t attacking his work rate. In my experience, political extremists, whether from the extreme left or the extreme right, usually have an amazing work rate. They put the rest of us to shame. Political extremists are usually active 24/7 for the cause, while the rest of us lazily lie back and watch tv soaps. I’m sure that the effort he puts into his work is tremendous. Its the political aspect of that work that I’m on about. By the way, having checked through the posts, Michael Hennigan was correct in saying that Brian Lucey was the first to mention him by name, saying that he (KA) would be happy to be described as a raving socialist. So, I’ve probably made him happy.

The content of this Report which is not a value for money audit is shocking to say the least. Two figures at random stood out. One is that salaries in this sector were Eur 1,072 million and the UCD Presidents remuneration package rose from Eur 207,000 in 2004 to Eur 273,000 in 2007. Is it any wonder that this country is broke when a small group of people is being paid nearly 4% of Government Gross Revenues. The President’s package increase of more than 30% in 3 years just shows that the top people like to be up there too in getting their share of the taxpayer’s largesse.

Colm Mc Carthy’s Report needs to be dusted down quickly as there is a real need to bring this sector back to reality.

Brian L,
When you say Trinity is subject to FoI requests, do you think they have audited accounts showing where taxpayers money is spent that one could easily and cheaply FoI?

Richard Tol, could you clarify your comment about “we don’t eat frogs” 20100918:21:19


Out of interest I trawled TCD and found the Finance Committee reports on line. Interesting reading. Bits and pieces on expenditure and suggestions that all is not rosy.

@Brian Lucey – re salary/package disparity between our 3rd level lecturers and counterparts in Queen’s etc –
Like yourself I cannot explain but I suspect the influence of the so-called Benchmarking Process,the old trick of paying well known ‘high-flying/visiting profs’ big dough – so therefore we all have to be raised accordingly,and plain old ‘snouts-in-the-trough’/greed….
Nothing to do with productivity of course.
Interesting that you are the only contributor to engage!

Of course university lecturers got the lowest benchmarking of all, while IT lecturers (who do not work for 2 months of the year) got a much higher increase. This had nothing to do with the value of the job and had everything to do with union representing them.

@Ray I think you have missed a decimal place in your calculations, while the UCD fat cats do not deserve their ridiculous salaries they only amount to about 0.3% of the sector, not 4%.

“…unless one is a public figure, which I am not, I should imagine posters’ real names and occupations mean nothing to and are of no interest to the site organisers.”

Ah come on John, you must understand the point – the point is not that posters’ identity is relevant to assessing their arguments but that non-anonymous posters put their reputation behind what they say in a way that the anons don’t. Not that I have any problem with anonymity, I’ve practised it myself plenty and there are plenty of legitimate reasons for it. But I think RT’s point is valid when he says there should perhaps be a greater burden of caution on the anonymous when making injurious comments about named (or very obviously indicated) individuals (e.g. that they don’t spend enough time on serious research).

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