Universities in Ireland have received Government approval to recruit top academics on salaries of up to €337,000 a year, despite a rule which usually caps salaries for employees in the public sector at the Taoiseach’s salary, which is €190,000 a year. Until this change in rules, universities seeking to pay more than this had to seek approval on a case by case basis.

 

Currently the top paid academic in Ireland is UCD’s Prof Boris Kholodenko, who is Deputy Director of the the university’s Systems Biology Centre. He earns €336,927 per year, which is broken into his main salary of €264,464 plus €72,463 in lieu of pension as Prof Kholodenko is not in UCD’s pension scheme. While professors can earn up to €136,000, more senior appointments, such as registrars, directors, or university presidents, may earn between €140,000 and €190,000.

 

The Irish Times analysis revealed that there are over 1,000 staff in the higher education sector on salaries of over €100,000 a year, and over 70 staff members in the higher education sector are on salaries of over €200,000 a year. The bulk of these are academic medical consultants, whose salaries are paid by the HSE and their affiliated college or university. These appointments do not need government approval as the salary scales allow them to be paid more than the Taoiseach’s €190,000. Most of these posts pay between €200,000 and €230,000. There are also 17 senior academics who have been hired under a rule called the “Departures Framework,” and they receive salaries of between €140,000 and €300,000.

 

The Departures Framework requires government approval to hire staff above the public sector pay caps. Senior university managements claim that they are experiencing difficulty recruiting top academics because of the public sector pay gaps and have been arguing for an increase. According to Jim Miley, the director general of the Irish Universities Association (IUA) “Ireland needs to be able to compete for the best talent in the market if we want to be truly world class… The best way to do this is to provide much greater flexibility to individual universities . . . Universities are competing more and more in an entrepreneurial world economy. They need to be freed to compete effectively by greater flexibility on salary levels. That will ultimately provide the best value for money for the State’s investment in talent.”

 

Last year the Government provided a special exemption from the public sector pay restrictions to allow for the recruitment of up to 10 research professors on salaries of up to €250,000. This is aimed at allowing Irish universities to hire world class researchers in areas of economic importance, such as science, technology, engineering, and maths.

 

The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), a trade union representing university staff, believes this strategy to be misguided. “The crisis of attracting and maintaining qualified lecturers and researchers will only be reversed by a recommitment of the exchequer to provide adequate resources,” according to Joan Donegan, IFUT’s general secretary. IFUT argues that paying large sums of money to a small number of staff is “no response” to a decade of cost-cutting policies that have affected low ranking researchers.