Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Thursday, 3 Jun 2010

Chapter 4 — Central Government, Financial Commitments under Public Private Partnerships

Ms Brigid McManus (Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills), Dr. James J. Browne (President, National University of Ireland Galway), Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin (President, Athlone Institute of Technology) and Mr. Tom Boland (Chief Executive, Higher Education Authority) called and examined.

We are dealing with Special Report No. 67 of the Comptroller and Auditor General: Chapter 2 — Fulfilment of Employment Contracts, which we will take first.

I wish to advise witnesses that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to this committee. If witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against a person of either House, a person outside of the House, or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Members are also reminded of the provisions within Standing Order 158 that they shall also refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or of a Minister, or the merits of the objectives of such policy or policies.

I welcome Ms Brigid McManus, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, and ask her to introduce her officials.

Ms Brigid McManus

Perhaps I will introduce the officials for this part of the session and then for the more general part. I am accompanied by Mr. Tom Boland, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, Mr. Michael Keogh, director of finance and other areas, Ms Anne Forde, higher education area, Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, president, Athlone Institute of Technology, Dr. James Browne, president, NUI Galway, and Mr. Chris McInerney, NUI Galway.

You are all welcome. Department of Finance officials are present.

Mr. David Denny

I am from the personnel and remuneration side of the Department of Finance and my colleague, Mr. Brendan Ellison, is from the sectoral side of the Department of Finance.

I invite Mr. Buckley to introduce the session. The full text of chapters 2 and 4 can be found in the annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General or on the website of the Comptroller and Auditor General at www.audgen.gov.ie.

Mr. John Buckley

This is a resumed session. The report on employment contracts in the institutes of technology was considered in November 2009. It suggested that there was a need for greater monitoring and control of the delivery of the time commitment of lecturers. The background to the report relates to a case for a full-time lecturer in Athlone Institute of Technology who was found in March 2007 to be lecturing also on a full-time basis in NUI Galway. The committee was informed at the last meeting that the individual concerned resigned from both posts at the end of November 2007. The Athlone Institute of Technology commissioned a review of the circumstances that gave rise to the individual concerned holding down two full-time positions. The review was completed in June 2008 and it raised wider concerns across the third level sector about the delivery on the time commitment of lecturers. The review report noted that a proportion of lecturers believed that their time commitment was exhausted after 16 hours contact time. It drew particular attention to the need to monitor contract fulfilment generally, provide for the approval and monitoring of all campus research and external work and monitor time-tabling and contact hours.

Would Ms McManus like to make a brief opening statement?

Ms Brigid McManus

We were here before and discussed a number of these issues. Certain information was requested from the committee subsequent to that meeting. I supplied information dealing with contract issues, pensions and salary scales.

On 16 December I wrote to the committee specifically about the details of the correspondence in terms of NUI Galway and Athlone Institute of Technology on the pension issue. The current position is that the individual concerned has now been refunded his pension contributions by NUI Galway and has been notified that he does not have any pension entitlement with NUI Galway. He is not necessarily accepting that is the position. That is the position.

In terms of the more detailed opening statements, both the president of NUI Galway and the president of Athlone Institute of Technology will speak in more detail about those issues. I am happy to deal with any of the more general questions on earlier correspondence later.

Would Dr. Browne like to make his opening statement?

Dr. James J. Browne

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to present the case. This case constitutes a flagrant breach of trust, not only the public trust but also the special trust and freedom which are fundamental to academic life and, as such, it was a tremendous source of distress and embarrassment to the university community in Galway. The question is what went wrong. I would say, frankly, a system that was over-reliant on trust was exposed in a number of respects. Its weaknesses were exploited by an individual who was prepared to break the rules and act dishonestly over a long period of time. I want to reassure the members, however, that lessons have been learned from this experience and our systems have been revised to ensure such abuse will not recur.

I will try to indicate briefly the types of change that have taken place in the university in the past ten years, some of which follow on from this experience and some of which were already in train.

The first point concerns our supervisory structures. Since 2008 we have put in place a new academic structure. Rather than 55 atomised departments across seven faculties we now have a unified structure of 16 schools in five colleges. This new structure places far greater emphasis on performance management. Each school is managed by a head of school under whom, by statute, all staff including professors carry out their duties.

The issue of external work has been addressed. The university has in place rules on engaging in and reporting on external work and consultancy, and these rules were flagrantly broken by the lecturer in question. On an annual basis this lecturer signed documentation confirming he did not engage in consultancy work, and those papers are in my file. In fact, each academic member of staff in the university is required to seek permission for any external work on an annual basis or to confirm that he or she is not engaging in external work.

The system has been revised, in the light of the experience of this case, in the following way. First, the entitlement to engage in appropriate consultancy has been reduced to a maximum of 10% of an individual's time; second, the request to engage in consultancy or external work must now be confirmed and countersigned by the head of school; and, third, permission is only given if it is clear that the work does not interfere with the staff member's regular duties.

A second important change in our oversight and management procedures relates to what we call activity profiles of academics. Every four months, every academic in Galway is required to fill in a statement of his or her work in the previous time and the proportion of time allocated in that previous four months to areas such as undergraduate teaching, postgraduate teaching, other teaching activities — workshops, laboratories, etc., research activity and outputs and institutional responsibilities.

We also have a new workload model which is implemented across the schools. On an annual basis each member of staff is required to document his or her contribution in detail across the areas I have just mentioned.

I will conclude my remarks in the following way. It is important to realise that in an academic institution there is a balance to be struck between what one might call standard managerial control and reporting on the one hand and also the need to recognise that academic authority does not of necessity follow a hierarchical structure.

The traditional accommodation between those two considerations to preserve the concept of academic freedom has been to essentially accept that academic staff operate in an environment of trust. In fact, the experience in the universities, and certainly my personal experience over 25 years, is that the majority of academic staff do deliver on that trust and work far harder than they might be expected to.

It was the breach of that trust in this case that caused the university such distress and led us to treat the issue with the utmost seriousness and to act immediately we knew about it. We acted within days of the event being brought to our attention and dealt with it.

We have since revised our procedures and systems and I suggest to the committee that an isolated case of this kind should not panic us into abandoning the concept of trust, which is so fundamental to the academic enterprise and I believe is adhered to by the vast majority of academics.

For the future, our policy must be trust, but verify. I suggest to the committee that our systems now in place around academic profiling, workload modelling and the head of school's responsibilities in regard to the activities of staff provide for appropriate verification of that trust.

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to address the committee today. He will recall that when I was last before the committee it was in regard to the Comptroller and Auditor General's special report, which included a review of the case where a full-time lecturer at Athlone Institute of Technology also held a full-time post at NUI Galway.

On that occasion the nature of the academic contract in institutes of technology was discussed. That contract requires faculty members to teach 16 hours per week, in addition to other commitments to research, tutorials, committees, industry engagement and so on. AIT has had a thorough review system in place to ensure that the requirements of the academic contract are being fulfilled. Our experience is that the overwhelming majority of staff not only meet their lecturing requirements but contribute far more to the institute and the student body than that.

On the external work commitments, members of staff at AIT are required to obtain permission from the president if they wish to engage in work outside of the institute. Where a staff member does not comply with that, a nationally agreed disciplinary procedure is invoked. With regard to this particular case, which formed the focus of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, the member of staff had not sought permission. When his dual employment was brought to attention on 27 November 2007, and after confirming details with NUIG that he was also employed on a full-time basis in Galway, we secured his resignation within four days.

I reiterate the Secretary General's clarification in regard to the individual's pension entitlements. The said individual has now been refunded his pension contributions to the scheme operated by NUIG and has been notified that he does not have any pension entitlement with that university. He is entitled to his pension from AIT, having paid into the scheme while a member of the staff at the institute. I am happy to answer any questions members may have arising from the report.

Can we publish all of the statements we have got? Thank you.

In terms of sketching in the background, can Professor Ó Catháin tell me when the lecturer in question started in Athlone?

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin

He was employed in Athlone on 31 December 1998. Mr. O'Malley was employed as a full-time lecturer in NUI from 1 May 1999 until his resignation in December 2007. He commenced his full-time lecturing post with us in Athlone on 1 September 1998.

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin


When did he take up the further full-time position in Galway?

Dr. James J. Browne

I will try to answer that question. He was offered a position in NUI Galway in September 1998. He advised in November 1998 that he had a full-time position in Athlone. On 1 February 1999 he confirmed acceptance of a position in Galway and suggested he would be finishing in Athlone at the end of April 1999. He started in Galway in May of 1999 having told us that he had terminated his position in Athlone.

I see. He started both jobs roughly at the same time.

Dr. James J. Browne

I think Athlone was earlier by a short period.

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin

Yes, 1 September.

Was there any cross-checking between the two institutions on the matter? For instance, was a reference obtained? Did Galway look for a reference in regard to work——

Dr. James J. Browne

In the normal course of events a reference would have been obtained but if somebody is taking up a new position they confirm they are going to terminate their previous position and one would normally accept that on trust. It is unheard of to continue a full-time job having said one will give it up to accept a new one. We would have no reason to believe he was going to continue to work in Athlone. As I say, he confirmed to us that he was terminating his position in Athlone to join Galway.

Regarding these two full-time jobs, if we could call them that, it appears the requirement in Athlone was 16 hours teaching and the requirement in Galway was——

Dr. James J. Browne

The requirement in Galway for an academic position is that there be three activities — teaching, research and what we call contribution. The expected outcome from teaching is about 150 hours of contact per year. It is about six hours of contact per——

Which would be about six hours per week, is that right?

Dr. James J. Browne

——week. What happened with him is he did his teaching in Galway. He did not do his research. That is how the issue came to a head because when he was interrogated about his lack of research output it became clear he was not researching. That is when the issue arose.

In relation to Athlone, I take it in general people are required to do a bit more than 16 hours per week.

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin

Absolutely. He did his 16 hours a week. He attended any course board. He was involved in tutorial support. He certainly fulfilled his contractual obligations from an AIT perspective. We never had any difficulty in terms of his performance.

What intrigues me about this case, as I am sure it would anybody else who is following it, is that nobody noticed over ten years that this lecturer was not doing anything much more than the basic six hours a week in NUI Galway and 16 hours a week in Athlone Institute of Technology.

Dr. James J. Browne

That is a very fair question. The answer I would give to the Deputy is the following. From a university perspective under the old model, and I emphasise my use of the term "old model", an individual was required to deliver a certain number of hours of teaching, which, to be fair, this person did and he did a good job from what I understand. His research up to now would have been his own private business. The notion was that individuals would carry out and report research. This lecturer neglected his research duties. It became evident to us under our new model, where a head of school is required to examine the overall output of an academic, that he was not doing a full job. That is when this issue surfaced.

Effectively, he was doing part of his job in NUI Galway successfully but he neglected the other part of it. We became aware of that and through that awareness, he was interrogated and this issue arose about his research. From that process emerged the fact that he was double-jobbing.

He would have been paid the full amount by each institution. Approximately how much would he have been paid a year?

Dr. James J. Browne

His salary entitlement at the end of his time in NUI Galway would be of the order of €75,000 to €80,000 per year.

What would have been the supplement to his salary from Athlone Institute of Technology?

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin

Something similar; €60,000 to €65,000 per year when he finished there. He has a similar salary in Athlone Institute of Technology.

I am sure the presidents appreciate how incredible most people would find this story. How do we know that other lecturers are not doing the same thing?

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin

We have gone through all our staff and have published and implemented the recommendations of the Cassells report on this case. Any staff who are doing work outside the institute must get permission from the president to do it and it cannot interfere with their work or with what they are doing in the institute.

We have to take the responses of the academic staff and their engagement with us on trust. The staff in the institute were alarmed at the findings of the report and were shocked that one of their colleagues was doing that. It has done a huge disservice to them in terms of how they operate and engage with the institute. We have put checks and balances in place. The president of NUIG has also indicated that checks and balances have been put in place in NUIG.

In regard to the other staff, Professor Ó Catháin said that the overwhelming majority of staff not only meet their lecturing requirements but contribute far more to the institute. The lecturing requirement is only 16 hours per week. Is it to that the professor was referring?

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin

It is 16 hours class contact time but over and above that they are expected to do a range of other duties, be it tutorial support, meeting students or some of our industrial panels, sitting on committees or advising students. The vast majority of them do all of that exceptionally well.

That implies that some of them are not doing any more than the basic 16 hours a week?

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin

The vast majority of them will do 16 hours plus a week but in all organisations one will always get one or two individuals who may not fulfil the rest of his or her duties. As time passes some of them may not engage as much as they did in their early years.

Do they get away with that?

We will have to suspend the meeting as a vote has been called in the Dáil. Apologies for that. The sitting will be suspended for approximately 15 minutes during which time the witnesses might avail of time to go and get a cup of coffee.

Sitting suspended at 11.05 a.m. and resumed at 11.25 a.m.

We will resume. Unfortunately, there will be more votes in the Dáil. The sitting is suspended at present, so we will try to get our business done quickly and effectively in the time available. I call Deputy Jim O'Keeffe.

On the broader issue of what is expected of staff in both institutions, Professor Ó Catháin said the overwhelming majority of the staff met their lecturing requirement of 16 hours per week and also contributed beyond that. That implied there were a number who were not doing any more than the basic.

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin

I would not say there are a number. There might be one or two across the institute who may not get as involved as they would have in previous years, but it is very much up to the department and the schools to manage how they use the staff. Even the independent report from Mr. Peter Cassells would have said that the vast majority of the staff are fully engaged in all activities and are fulfilling their roles within their contracts. We have been monitoring it quite closely across the departments and the schools and we are satisfied and confident that since 2007 all the staff are adhering to the terms of their contracts.

What is the average number of hours per week worked by staff in the institute?

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin

For some of them it is a case of how long a piece of string is. It depends very much on the individual. Some individuals will have their 16 hours contact and could be there for another 20 hours. Some of them could be doing research, corrections or tutorials. On average most of them would be working what is equivalent to 40 hours per week.

A normal, full-time week.

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin


It is not normal for Deputies, but that is another day's work.

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin

Chairman, there was a question about the salary of the individual when he finished. The salary scale he was on at that time was €81,591.

So he had €81,000 from the institute and €65,000 from Galway.

Dr. James J. Browne

Yes, approximately €65,000 from Galway.

That is nearly €150,000. Following the same line in relation to Galway, six hours a week was the basic requirement.

Dr. James J. Browne

No. I will try to explain. The job of a lecturer has three elements — teaching, research and what we call contribution. In terms of teaching, it is expected that there will be 150 hours of contact with undergraduate students each year. That is where the figure of six hours per week comes in. Lecturers are also expected to supervise masters and PhD students and to engage in research. I will give the committee an indication of the type of work that is going on. We have fewer than 500 full-time academic staff in our university. We have approximately 1,200 PhD students. That is an average of more than two PhD students per staff member. We have approximately 1,600 taught master's students each year. That is an average of more than three taught master's students per staff member. Most students complete their studies in September of each year, having compiled their dissertations or theses over the summer. Each of our staff is dealing with an average of more than five research or taught master's students at any time. The university had submissions for 1,000 research grants last year. Approximately 25% of the submissions were successful. Those research grants brought an income of approximately €55 million to the university. A range of organisations, including the EU, Science Foundation Ireland, the Higher Education Authority and industry bodies, were involved in the various programmes, all of which are very competitive. That funding is then used to support PhD and master's students. Most PhD students are paid a stipend or their fees are paid by means of research grants. Our academic staff are expected to be involved in activity of that nature.

I will give the committee an indication of how widespread research is. At the moment, there are 1,200 individual active accounts for research grants in the university. The accounts are held by 350 academic staff members. Most of our staff have active research accounts. They would have spent time writing, winning, managing and delivering on those accounts. That is the basis on which the work is done. The six hours of direct contact, primarily with undergraduate students, have been mentioned. That teaching is combined with supervising postgraduate research by master's and PhD students, generating research funding to facilitate that research and, importantly, doing other work. I will give an example of such work. We believe that 6,000 people from outside Ireland came to Galway for conferences run by academics in the university. We typically run over 40 conferences each year. All of them are initiated by individual academics. The point I am trying to make is that academics have a tremendous responsibility to use the trust they enjoy to attract activity to the university. I refer to research, conferences and workshops. All of that activity, which makes a huge contribution to the university and the wider community, is in addition to the six hours of teaching that is constantly mentioned as academics' normal workload, in terms of direct contact with students.

Dr. Browne has painted a good picture. He has defended his institution very well. Our job is to try to look under the stones. My essential concern relates to whether the taxpayer is getting value for the salaries it pays to academic staff in these institutions.

Dr. James J. Browne

Frankly, the Deputy's concern is well placed. In this egregious instance, the taxpayer did not get good value. There is no doubt about that. It was off the scale in terms of——

Was this the tip of the iceberg?

Dr. James J. Browne

I do not believe so. In fact, I believe it was the opposite. I will give the committee another piece of data to indicate the university's level of activity.

I think we are convinced of that, quite honestly. Perhaps we can move on. Even if we are not convinced, we have heard enough evidence in this regard.

I would like to pursue the tip of the iceberg analogy. We should bear in mind that this apparently went on for approximately ten years without anybody noticing. I accept that new procedures are being put in place in most institutions. Can I ask the officials from the Higher Education Authority whether the same thing applies to the other third level institutions in this country? Have they been warned that they should check the output of their staff?

Mr. Tom Boland

Yes. This incident was drawn to the attention of all institutions funded by the Higher Education Authority. They were asked to review their procedures and put in place revised procedures in accordance with the recommendations of the report that was prepared by Mr. Peter Cassells on foot of this case.

Is Mr. Boland satisfied that such actions are being taken?

Mr. Tom Boland

Yes. The HEA has received assurances from all the institutions that they are taking such actions. In addition, there is a process under the code of governance, which applies particularly to the universities but has also been extended to the institutes of technology, whereby institutions must submit to the HEA an annual governance statement which certifies that they are acting in accordance with a range of policies, including pay policies. That statement is audited by the external auditors of the university, which gives a level of assurance to the HEA.

Does the HEA accept that reassurance? There is anecdotal evidence — I will not put it more strongly than that — to suggest that some academic staff are swinging the lead, essentially. They are not putting in the hours. I am not referring specifically to staff in the two institutions represented at today's meeting. That leads me to another issue. Who checks all of that? Are broad assurances accepted, or are they followed up?

Mr. Tom Boland

This area is primarily of concern to the institutions' management. It is not possible for the HEA to identify what staff are doing. I do not think the Deputy is implying that can be done. The case we are discussing at today's meeting demonstrates the need for better information and better management of staff in the higher education sector. The president of NUI Galway spoke about the development of workload management procedures in that university. The HSE would like such procedures to be developed across the sector.

Has that not been replicated in all institutions?

Mr. Tom Boland

Not in all institutions.

Mr. Tom Boland

I understand there has been some staff resistance in a number of institutions. The management authorities in all the universities are making efforts in this area, as well as doing work on full economic costing. I would like to put this in context. We have to acknowledge that traditionally, universities were places with decentralised management powers. That has been changing, in the teeth of opposition, in recent years. The new approach has been described as managerialism, which is seen as a very bad thing for academic life. A balance needs to be struck between the appropriate management of what academics do and the kind of autonomy and academic freedom they ought to have. I think the balance is shifting in the right direction.

I take that point, but as we are representing the taxpayer we have to ascertain whether value for money is being achieved.

Mr. Boland said, in response to Deputy Jim O'Keeffe's question about the need to try to tighten up the situation, that there has been some "resistance". Could we have the names of the institutions that are resisting change?

Mr. Tom Boland

I do not think the institutions are resisting change, in fairness. What I meant was that there are some industrial relations and staffing difficulties. I do not have the information being sought to hand, but I can certainly give the committee details of the progress that has been made on the specific issue of workload management in the universities sector.

Has any analysis been conducted on the number or percentage of academic staff in the various institutions who are, effectively, not abiding by their contracts? Has the delegation any idea of how bad or good things are from that point of view?

Mr. Tom Boland

The direct answer is "No". The HEA has not carried out any such analysis. In general, the HEA takes the view that the universities and institutes and their staff are doing a thoroughly good job. This can be seen by the level and quality of our graduates. I am not in favour of a characterisation of the system such that there are a significant number of people swinging the lead. Undoubtedly, there are some but, undoubtedly, there are others who do far more than they are paid to do. I am unsure how we would set about a specific analysis but, to answer the Deputy's question, it has not been done.

The Hunt report is expected fairly soon. Will it cover this area?

Mr. Tom Boland

I am unsure whether I can comment on that.

Ms Brigid McManus

Perhaps I could make a comment.

When the Secretary General was responding to Deputy Jim O'Keeffe last November in evidence she stated she held concerns about the annualised figures. I am rushing now because there will be another vote and I am conscious that there is a time constraint for one of the parties. The Secretary General expressed concern about the annualised contact time for lecturers. There was a 560 hour target or obligation. The Secretary General expressed concerns that, in many cases, the target was not being met. Since she expressed a concern last November to this committee, what has the HEA done to address that concern? Will the Secretary General couple the answer to that with her response to Deputy Jim O'Keeffe?

Ms Brigid McManus

I will take the second question first. The difficulty with the institute of technology issue is the interaction of two elements in a contract. It is a problem specific to the institutes of technology rather than the universities. There is an agreement on annualised hours and for 16 hours per week. The way the system is structured lends rigidity in exploiting the full 560 hours. There is a very strong view that we need annualised hours without some of these constraints and an ability to agree less or more per week and to do more. There are many other issues in the contract, including how evening classes are managed. These are in the industrial relations space.

As I indicated to the committee, the matter is in conciliation under the Labour Relations Commission. The committee will appreciate that the current public sector environment is not the most conducive to resolving some of these issues. Professor Ó Catháin may wish to comment on this matter but it is fair to say that we and the institutes are trying, in so far as there is flexibility, to make progress. For example, an institute of technology lecturer finishes on 20 June. There are several conditions in the specific institute of technology contracts which altogether make it hard to maximise the value of the lecturer. There are a set of things we are trying to get changed in an industrial relations context. In the meantime, the institutes are working at local level by trying to schedule the types of programme they are running and to maximise them in every way they can. However, fundamentally it is an industrial relations issue.

The higher education strategy is at an advanced stage. It is examining a series of issues, one of which is the direction over the next 20 years and what objectives one is trying to achieve. This includes any management or human resource policy changes one may wish to see in the system. I understand the Deputy asked whether the authority has done an audit across the various institutions. It has not. This is at the strategy and direction level. As part of its work, it has examined some of the issues such as contractual conditions or how things operate.

It is probably fair to say that there is consensus throughout the system at the management level or in terms of any discussion we have held that we should be in a particular space. Over the years, the PMDS or performance management system for individual staff and providing for managers to hold staff accountable have been part of earlier pay agreements. I refer to the overall human resources model that Dr. Browne described, as part of which lecturers must account for time. It is partly an institute of technology issue but having management information which allows an institution to examine its divisions is desirable. We would wish for an individual president to be able to say that the average hours worked here are different to there. As Tom Boland stated, those models are at different stages of development in the institutions and we wish to see more of that done.

I refer back to a simple question and hopefully there will be a simple answer to it. There are existing contracts. Each lecturer or professor has an individual contract. Leaving aside any question of general changes to such contracts in future, the first concern is whether those contracts are abided by. If this is not the case, why not and what is being done about it?

I had raised the issue of the Hunt report, which, I understand, is an in-depth review of the whole third level sector in all its aspects. I understand drafts should be due this month and, presumably, will be published shortly. Will it focus on this essential area of how to get better value for money?

I wish to pause the discussion here because there is another vote in the House. Does Ms McManus wish to respond?

Ms Brigid McManus

The Hunt report's terms of reference include the production of a strategy for the next 20 years in broad terms for what the higher education sector should be doing. As part of this, it will consider the issue of value for money. My point is that the report is examining the structures and changes in structures, contracts or operations that must be made. The report has not set out to do audits in the institutions even though it has gathered certain amounts of information. That is the difference.

I understand Dr. Browne has an urgent commitment and came here on that basis. We should facilitate him in this regard.

We must pause for the vote but if Dr. Browne wishes to leave his director of human resources, Mr. McNairney, is here.

Dr. James J. Browne

I thank the committee for hearing me this morning. Universities are prepared to engage in discussions about contracts. We have no issue in terms of having an assessment done of our outputs. My advice is to develop a contract system which focuses on outputs and to measure people in terms of outputs. That would be a good way to allow for academic freedom, to build on trust, but to verify it by checking outputs. I believe there is an appetite and an interest in the universities in moving in that direction. I reassure the committee that the universities are serious about getting value for money. Value for money is there. This is a particularly unfortunate case and bad cases make for bad law. I would not use it as a good example of what is happening our institutions. I share absolutely the committee's concern for value for money and for transparency in terms of what universities do.

It sounds like a sensible way forward.

We will pause for the vote and Dr. Browne may leave.

Sitting suspended at 11.50 a.m. and resumed at noon.

I have two questions for the HEA. Is the HEA considering a rearrangement of the minimum teaching hours for lecturers of six to seven hours?

Mr. Tom Boland

I suppose the direct answer is "No". Certainly, I would share the concerns that have been expressed by some of the university presidents on this issue, that introducing a minimum number of hours into contracts runs the risk — I would not put it any stronger than that — that such is what you get. The approach adopted by Dr. Browne, just as he was leaving, that you have a contract which sets out what needs doing and then you assess what staff are doing on the basis of their outputs, is a much better way than stating a minimum number of hours.

Is Ms McManus confident that there are no other examples of double jobbing, as it has been described in the system?

Ms Brigid McManus

In a system of 20,000, I do not think you could be confident. I am confident that everybody has been alerted to it and it has put tighter systems in place. On whether somebody could slip through those systems, it would be a brave Secretary General who would state that a person could not.

Probably, the more important issue for us to which it gives rise is not just double jobbing within the sector which is a particular issue, but the more general issue about which the Chairman was talking to people earlier, namely how we ensure that we get as much as possible out of each individual lecturer through whatever HR management systems and contracts we have because that is probably ultimately what gives best value. I would be happy the systems are better than they were but I could not guarantee there are not other instances.

Does the Department take a proactive role in policing this, in other words, would it or the HEA look at the brochures or prospectus of different colleges to see if there is duplication of names, and if there is duplication, would it pursue this?

Ms Brigid McManus

One can have persons who are legitimately working in two places. It is not unusual in the part-time situation to have persons who are giving lectures in more than one institution. That is not at all unusual.

It is not feasible——

What, for example, of a case where somebody was permanent in one institution and named in another institution?

Ms Brigid McManus

We would not have the capacity — it would not be a good use of resources — to be able to police that, either at our level or at the HEA level. There may be system measures we could think of at a level where there are extra checks that one could put in, for example, whether, if somebody in getting references states that he or she has been in a previous place, there should be an automatic check six months later with the institution that the person has left. We could not get it in a situation where we have 20,000 full-time equivalents in the higher education sector, and I do not know how many of those if one converts it back into part-time hours. Other than audits managing to do spot-checks when they are doing the normal audit, or internal audit doing that type of work, it could not be done centrally by us or by the HEA.

Mr. Tom Boland

As the Secretary General has said, I could not give the committee any guarantee. Certainly, I would like this committee to have a reasonable level of assurance and reassurance that this is not happening in the system. If nothing else, the highlighting of this particular case, both initially in the media and then through this committee, has alerted all management in all the institutions to the risks involved and they have assured the HEA that they have put in place systems to prevent this happening. That is a reasonable level of assurance that can be given on this one.

I thank Mr. Boland. We will conclude this part of the hearing. Has Mr. Buckley anything to add?

Mr. John Buckley

On the latter point, I will certainly have a look at whether it is possible to do sweeps using computers to check for duplication but it would involve ensuring there are no data protection issues. We certainly do that on some files within our audits and it may be a cost-effective way of getting total assurance. Equally, if I cannot do it, it may be possible that somebody else, such as the HEA, could sponsor it if we explain how it works. I will have a look at how that could work.

Going back to the issue at hand, apart from on-the-job controls, a greater emphasis on management accounting could help institutions to review the focus of academic activity. There have been some investments in that respect designed to equip third level institutions to capture and allocate the cost of teaching resources based on activity — Dr. Browne explained the three activities in which third level institutions engage. These changes, of course, have yet to be bedded in. If they are, they hold out the prospect of the institutions becoming more managerial in resource management in the future.

We will get an opportunity to talk and think about this again. We have a report coming out in the autumn on the university sector which deals with what is called the full economic cost model, what is behind it, etc. We also will be doing some work on the strategic innovation fund, which provides the funds to allow this development to occur.

We will get another opportunity to come back to this issue. I see this as a second string to the bow. Apart from the physical and on-the-ground controls that must be in place at university level, becoming more managerial and reviewing management information through a well bedded in management accounting system should help universities in the future. As I stated, there are moves in that direction.

I thank Mr. Buckley. Is it agreed that we dispose of chapter 2? Agreed. We will move on to the Vote. Before the Secretary General rearranges the delegation, I thank the professor, everybody from UCG and the HEA.