Dáil debates

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

University Governance

11:40 am

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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39. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the status of moneys due to NUIG in view of the confirmation given by the Comptroller and Auditor General to the Committee of Public Accounts on 6 April 2017 that the financial statements of NUIG recognised an amount of €17.5 million due from a foundation to the university at 30 September 2014 regarding capital projects in 2011, if that sum has been paid in full or in part and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52019/17]

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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To clarify an earlier question, the report was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas but was buried under those reports. It was not available on the website. The Minister is correct with regard to that.

Question No. 39 is a specific question about Galway University Foundation. The matter arose earlier this year at the Committee of Public Accounts. An outstanding sum of €17.5 million was due about which I would like clarity. Has this money been paid over? It was due from the foundation to the university since 2011.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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My Department allocates recurrent funding to the Higher Education Authority, HEA, for direct disbursement to the HEA-designated higher education institutions, including the universities. The HEA allocates this funding to the institutions. The internal disbursement of that funding is then a matter for the individual institution. Universities are autonomous bodies as set out in the Universities Act 1997 and are responsible for their own day-to-day affairs, including the allocation of all of its income, both public and private, and with regard to their own financial affairs.

Officials of my Department have sought details regarding the issue referred to by the Deputy. Based on information provided by NUIG, I can confirm the figure of €17.48 million related to funding due from the foundation to the university at 30 September 2014 regarding capital projects in 2011. This represents philanthropic donations as contributions to the development of the engineering building and extensions to the arts-science building at NUIG. To date, €15.56 million of this has been repaid to NUIG by the foundation. The current balance outstanding is €1.92 million, which is scheduled for payment on 31 December 2017.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State for that clarification. I welcome the fact that €15.56 million has been paid over and that there is a date for the payment of the remaining €1.92 million. This has been outstanding since 2011. I am fully aware that the universities are independent. I am a very proud Galwegian and went to college in Galway. However, in respect of the foundation, the reason I raised this issue is because it was highlighted by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his report in April 2017. He pointed out that it went back to 2011. That foundation has a board composed of members in Galway and the US. If one looks at the board and foundation members, one can see that one will take an interest because of the nature of members of that board, including Goldman Sachs, Coca-Cola and Morgan Stanley. One can see where the foundation is pushing education, which is the bigger issue. The specific issue for today is that most of the money has been paid over. My supplementary question concerns the reason for this delay. Why did it take from 2011 to 2017 - six years - for this money to be paid over?

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I have confirmed that the sum of €15.56 million has been repaid and the outstanding sum of €1.92 million will be paid on 31 December 2017. Philanthropic funding is an important resource in helping to widen the funding base for third-level education. The accounts of Galway University Foundation Limited for the end of June 2016 were attached to the 2016 accounts of NUIG. These accounts were received in the Department on 19 October last.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The money has been paid over. That is the specific issue. When was it paid over? Does the Minister of State have the date when the €15.56 million was paid over? While I welcome philanthropic aid, there must be openness and accountability with regard to it. I have always had serious concerns about openness and accountability, and not just with this foundation. The matter has come up repeatedly with other third-level institutions. The accounts generally of foundations and third-level institutions have never been consolidated. The reason for this in Galway is because it says it does not have control over it. However, the president of the university sits on the foundation, as do other serious members. There are issues here for us later on. When was the money paid over?

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I do not have that specific date with me. The Department supports the proposals that emerged during the discussions at meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts earlier this year, which are that the latest available audited accounts for trusts and foundations should be made available with the main financial statements laid before the Oireachtas. The HEA wrote to all institutions in June and July 2017 requiring this approach. I can confirm that NUIG has complied with this request in the 2016 accounts, which have been received in the Department. The HEA will continue to work with the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the universities to ensure best practice in this regard is maintained with a view of ensuring transparency and accountability in respect of foundation activities.

Question No. 40 replied to with Written Answers.