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Universities in Ireland face criticism over use of public funds, including COIs in spinouts


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: July 12th, 2017

Serious concerns about the way many of Ireland’s universities spend taxpayers’ money has been voiced in a highly critical report by the Dáil Committee of Public Accounts. One of the areas the report focuses on is potential conflicts of interest among senior university staff who are shareholders in spin-out companies.

The report blasts several universities that have resisted declaring tens of millions of euro from private trusts and foundations in their accounts, despite pressure from regulators, according to well-informed sources. It also raises concerns about unauthorised severance payments worth hundreds of thousands of euro, widespread noncompliance with procurement rules, and significant financial losses linked to mismanagement.

The report is critical, in particular, that policy regarding ownership of shares in spinout companies has been dictated by government bodies linked to industry rather than to education. Its findings come at a sensitive time as university presidents argue that their schools are facing financial crisis and need more funding to address rapidly rising enrollments and state budget cuts. In response to those concerns, the government has proposed a new payroll tax.

Few universities were spared criticism. At The Waterford Institute of Technology, senior managers were charged with mishandling the sale of a spin-out company incorporated at WIT to a U.S. multinational. The company paid €63 million for the spinout, but the university received only €1.3 million of that payout.

Among other measures, the report notes that the committee which drafted it is considering a firmer policy on commercializing intellectual property and managing spinouts. This, it says, should be drawn up by education authorities, not corporate interests.

Source: The Irish Times

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