Universities resisted declaring tens of millions in assets

Several universities have tens of millions of euro in private trusts and foundations which they have resisted declaring in their accounts, despite pressure from regulators and the Government.

Audits into third-level institutions have also revealed a range of governance issues, such as significant additional payments to staff members and widespread non-compliance with procurement rules.

The issues come to light as university presidents argue that the sector is in financial crisis and urgently needs additional income to cope with rising student numbers and reductions in State funding.

Universities such as NUI Galway (NUIG), UCC , University of Limerick (UL) and DCU have foundations which typically engage in fundraising activities among private donors to assist education and research.

These foundations have not, however, formed part of the accounts of these universities, even though the funds will ultimately benefit their institutions.

Latest records show Galway University Foundation Ltd’s assets were just in excess of €57 million, a trust-fund linked to UCC had assets of €17 million and the University of Limerick Foundation had just in excess of €15 million in its account.

Audit records released under the Freedom of Information Act show the Higher Education Authority (HEA) has written to universities on a number of occasions in recent years stating that the accounts for these organisations need to be consolidated with those of their universities for “trust and transparency” reasons.

Some universities, such as NUIG, resisted declaring these sums in their accounts on the basis that they did not control the foundation or trust organisations.