Trinity spent €30.6 million over the past six years on hiring private firms, more than any other higher education institution in the country, according to the Higher Education Authority (HEA).
Third level institutes have collectively spent over €150 million on hiring outside firms since 2011, with universities spending €104 million on private reports and legal fees since 2011, and institutes of technology’s spent a further €48 million, according to the review carried out for the Dáil Public Accounts Committee published this week.
Trinity’s spending on private firms has increased in the last six years, from €2.6 million in 2011 to €7.1 million in 2017. This growth in spending is echoed across the sector, where the spending of the seven universities on private consultants and legal fees has risen by 70% since 2011. Across the college’s spending was approximately €11 million in 2011, and rose to €19.4 last year.
University of Limerick (UL) spent €20.8 million over the six years hiring private consultants and law firm, the second largest amount spent on private firms by a university. UL’s controversy surrounding the universities irregular financial practices and consequent industrial relations problems largely likely largely contributed to the university’s spending on private firms.
In addition, Maynooth University (MU) spent €17.3 million and University College Cork (UCC) spent €13 million in the past six years. Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) spent €11.2 million on consultancy and legal fees, the fifth most in the country. CIT’s spending accounts for one-fifth of the spending on private firms across all the ITs in the country.
Private firms are often consulted in relation to construction projects, strategy, internal auditing, research projects and legal work. The HEA found over 120 cases where colleges had brought in external bodies to conduct internal investigations or to deal with staff complaints.
Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) spent €281,166 hiring external investigators to deal with a plagiarism case. Two private consultants were paid daily fees of €1,500 to conduct this investigation which lasted more than two years. This made GMIT the largest spender on consultants to deal with internal issues.
Speaking on the findings, Seán Fleming TD said he was “taken aback” by the level of expenditure on private firms. He said that the public spending watchdog would be reviewing the issue with the HEA and the Department of Education. Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane expressed concern at the “cavalier” attitudes shown by colleges in relation to hiring private firms.
“This is taxpayers’ money, and parents are forking out more money for college fees. I think we have to ensure we’re getting value for money here,” he said. He also suggested that more work should be carried out internally by institutes of education, rather than hiring external bodies which outsource jobs and costs the state.