Concerns about the channelling of the millions of euros secured for research programmes by the public universities of Cyprus were expressed at Wednesday’s meeting of the house education committee, which examined of the amendment of the University of Cyprus Budget for 2019, due to an increase in external funding received by the University for that particular year.
As stated before the committee by the official of the University of Cyprus, Menelaos Menelaou, for 2019 the income from research programs was increased by €5.6 million, bringing the total amount to €22.2 million, as more funding was secured from what was originally calculated.
As Menelaou clarified, these amounts come from external funding and not from state sponsorship. He noted that since then increased provisions are made in terms of the amounts expected to be secured by the university, so that there is no need for retroactive adjustment.
By intervening in the discussion, the officer from the audit office raised the issue of irregular payments, without an approved proposal in the budget, while also pointing out that of the €22.2 million secured by the UCy from external funding, €10 .5 million related to staff salaries.
In this context, the official of the audit office said that the disagreement of the auditor-general with the amount of remuneration, indicating that this amount reaches 64.1 per cemt to 70.5 per cent of the amount of academics’ earnings, while citing an example where the remuneration reached €90,000. He also reiterated the proposal for a ceiling on kickbacks at 30 per cent of earnings.
An official of the university then stated, in response to a question posed by Edek MP Andreas Apostolou, that there is a ceiling regarding the time academics spend on research projects, which is set at 60 per cent of their working time, in order not to operate competitively to their teaching duties.
The same officer explained that in exceptional cases of very demanding research programs, this time may exceed 60 per cent and for this purpose visiting professors are hired, paid from the funds of the research programs, to make up for the teaching hours.
Committee members asked the university to present a list of visiting professors who have been invited to meet such needs, with Committee head Pavlos Mylonas pointing out that it needs to be established whether the phenomenon is indeed an exception to the rule.
Finally, the official of the University of Cyprus, responding to the comments of the MPs, noted that the allocation of funds for research programs is governed by regulations of the European Commission, which grants the funds, and that there are frequent checks by the EU, in which there was never a negative finding, as he said. He also explained that kickbacks are an important incentive for the repatriation of notable academics from major universities abroad.