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Voltaire Network >>
Universities: milking publicly funded positions for personal profit
economics and finance |
Saturday December 21, 2019 20:25 by Diamantina
Unique universities: now the only place where senior public officers can live abroad, have few checks on expenses and tax, and benefit personally from public funding of gene patents
The exploitation of tax funds for private personal gains by state sector employees, particularly at universities.UCC as example.
The public is funding things like applications for human gene patents. This means that we all have to pay to have access to our genetic coding and bodies. The people applying for the patents stand to benefit personally in any future income generated by such patents because despite being paid a publicly funded salary, the universities also pay the employee a percentage in future.
Research is a title which can cover a vast array of jobs in scientific and pseudo- scientific disciplines. In Ireland, as in some other places in Europe, universities are the first place some people look for jobs which involve research. This is because there is state funding and the outcomes which are required as part of the job description can be very few if any.
Researchers in publicly funded university roles with salaries many times the average make use of publicly funded colleagues and equipment. Frequently, the researchers use their status and reputations to gain funding, apply for patents, or attempt to make a private company at a later date. The funding taxpayers receive nothing in return and do not own any part of any future gains built using tax funds.
Using UCC as a focus, because we have personal experience and some insight, what follows describes some things which have completely shocked and depressed those who have studied the issues. There doesn't seem to be any independent body to oversee or regulate the universities, and recent new rules relating to HEA oversight still won't change taxpayers' money being used to seek gene patents.
Academic employees with no undergraduate or clear teaching role
There are employees at HE institutions (e.g. UCC) who have no undergraduate teaching responsibilities. These employees may in theory ‘supervise’ a number of postgraduate students, however there are no required outcomes or minimum numbers, and these students are essentially tokening in case of scrutiny over use of public funding towards what are in essence private research companies funded by taxpayers. There may be many contracts which do not stipulate any minimum hours or responsibilities for teaching. UCC refuses to be open about this and has refused FOI requests.
Academic research employees who may not have contractual minimum grant funding
It is unclear how much funding researchers should have from outside grants especially from private sources instead of from taxpayers. It is unclear what the level of University funding is per department. Although many job adverts for research professors may talk about evidence of achieving grant funding, there are usually no minimum requirements, and no ongoing discussions of the worth of individual researchers who may achieve little outside funding during may years of receiving salary. This means they will rely on departmental university funding and government grants which come from us.
Academic employees who may have brief open contracts
This relates to the issue that some contracts may not stipulate attendance, defined roles, rules on receiving private payments from other institutions or businesses, and who may be able to use the state-funded staff and equipment provided to them for patenting ideas or for publishing articles which benefit the employees and/or others and not the main publicly funded employer.
Employees including academics who can be permitted to have main residence (and collect other income and social security benefits) in countries other than in Ireland.
Within institutions like UCC some people will have contracts denoting responsibilities, residency requirements and expected outcomes, while others will have few if any, often with much higher pay. This means that people in receipt of a great deal of public funding including a hugely overpaid salary, do not necessarily have to reside in Ireland. They may commute for part weeks when not on a university long vacation. FOI requests about employees with residence in other countries, expenses for commuting from other countries, and for expenses more generally, have been refused. It is possible to ask (and we all can understand) what funds are used for at a local hospital, at a council or school, but this is not the case at a university. The universities often do anything they can to frustrate the process of being open, and do not like to make accounts publicly available. This may be not surprising given the payments made to some staff, the expenses allowable, and the lack of any obvious benefit to anyone but the ones voting for such as university managers are able to do. In some cases it's believed that no-one in the Education departments would know or have power to know what tax is being paid in what countries by senior public employees at universities.
At UCC for example, employees can live abroad, have other incomes, pay or not pay taxes and claim state support in other counties, then fly several times a week to the 'Green Award bragging' university. The universities have nothing but their own rules to choose as they please, including voting on their own pay. It wasn't long ago Michael Murphy justified his salary by moaning about his personal struggle as he had a big mortgage, compared to what he could 'get' the magical private sector, or another country, where contrarily all the people who say this seem to be incredibly reluctant to go to. Go. Please.
At UCC in 2017 the Governing Body decided that Patrick O'Shea was the best person for President. His wife and family live in the USA, and in choosing Mr O'Shea the University supports and encourages people to fly regularly between their homes on different continents. The 'home' for Mr O'Shea in Cork is a luxury apartment funded by the taxpayer. Whether other expenses are regularly being covered by the taxpayer, such as flights to the US, cleaners' fees, housekeepers and ironing services, taxis, flights for his wife and other relations to attend events at UCC (like meeting Prince Charles, where Mrs O'Shea appeared), is not something the University wants to reveal. There appear to be no ongoing regular checks, questions or inspections, rules (adhered to or not), or abilities to regulate on the part of the HEA or any other body.
A lot of damage is being caused to the environment by university employees flying as a form of commuting. At the same time as advising students and junior employees to be sure to recycle coffee cups. At the same time as being positive about Greta, and advertising Green credentials (which must be based around things such as recycling cups while the question about use of flights and taxis by some employees was missing?). Maybe once Mr O'Shea feels he has banked enough after the 10 years, he will be back in one of his residences with his wife in the USA. Presumably this model of living is one which we should all aspire to, because surely a university president who talks about 'University of the Family' and about how environmentally caring the university is, believes this way of life is the one a graduate or non-graduate should aim for. No higher position than a university president for all those graduates. They can live in hope, and should start looking for their most beloved partners who will live on a different continent for many years (as long as they can live in state-funded luxury whilst doing so).
As always with obscene overpayment, most of the employees with salaries of far over €100,000 are able in reality to retire from ‘working’ after a few years in order to maintain an unearned income, manage their wealth, and have poorer people pay money to them for things like rentals. Vassalage is alive and well and there are parallel societies created in most of the developed countries by this large scale abuse of public funds and the dishonest defence of things being done ‘for the public good’. Many choose not to retire early however, because the life for such employees is often more convenient than a home life when the work environment has heated offices with secretaries and catering, subservience, not to mention the possibility of funded worldwide travel. How such abuse of funds taken from much poorer people goes on in the modern world is inexplicable, and such system of permitting the universities to vote on their own overpay is part of the problem. The universities are the place to look if people want to find the cause of the great problems in societies such as inequality and the health of people affected by this. The universities can be seen as one big tax funded gravy train, with complete freedom unlike the health service and education departments. For example, there are few other public organisations where it happens as at UCC that a President can publicly complain about a salary over €230,000.
Moreover, the umbrella organisation of the IUA exists not to oversee the universities but to promote them, and it is governed by the directors of the universities. There is no independent person or department which has any power when it comes to universities and higher education. . All FOI requests on these issues have been refused so far, and questions about ‘one person, one salary’ and the salaries and incomes of employees, especially non-teaching, have been refused. In reality the employment of some staff is simply justified by it adding points to surveys which are undertaken by profitable companies such as QS systems.
Funding is coming from students and tax including those on minimum wages.
Yet the IP claimed by Universities or researchers is to benefit the universities, the spin-out companies, and the researchers who may have been nowhere near a laboratory for many years. It is not unusual for researchers to be funded publicly for many years and to then start a company if they think it will be profitable, so to avoid giving any ownership to the university.
Many students, including international ones who pay very high fees, may have little idea of what their fees are being used for.
There are many employees from whom the undergraduates will derive no benefit now or in future, yet their fees are supporting. Their funding goes to staff to effectively run their own mini-business ventures which will benefit themselves.
In private companies employees do not usually own patents.
The company and the people who voluntarily paid for the research own any patents. For example, one of the statin developers Akira Endo who was working for Sankyo did not personally derive much direct financial benefit for his ‘discoveries’ at the time, but was likely to have been in receipt of a salary the company decided and he signed for.
There may be no rules given by the government as to the destination and purpose of income derived from IP (for example) owned by publicly funded organisations and researchers.
There may be no rules or guidance given by the government as to tests of worth or ethics of research conducted with public funds. The funders of this research have no choice over it, and no benefits from it. Even if there were benefits, for some the lack of choice on funding it makes it anyway wrong.
In a number of universities in Ireland, professors often receive salaries of 8-10 times the average wage.
For example, at UCC all professors receive over €100,000. This may be in addition to very high expenses and costs, some of which may even be categorised to research funding, such as travelling without any expected outcomes to meet with 'collaborators' despite the internet, and to stay in hotels around the world. In addition, most departments which conduct research have many staff and salaries for postgraduates. In addition to a salary in many cases of around €200,000, such employees can claim benefits from any IP they register using the many resources provided to the department. Even if millions of Euros were to flow from any IP, there is nothing going back to the government and the students who paid. Instead, the employee named on the patent or publications (whether or not they contributed or whether they actually just supervised postgraduates from abroad) is paid around a third, with the university keeping around two thirds of any IP income. The managers can choose to do as they please with this, including offering even higher salaries to a few, and having more luxury hotel stays within the departments with bigger budgets. They may choose to make a position paid over €120,000 as a 'special adviser to the President - as Michael Murphy had. The more overpaid people such universities can recruit and retain, the more are on the same train to protect the racket and talk about extreme talent or specialness (despite all statistics and evidence to the contrary), and the need for public research and funding to help save the poor people from themselves. Whether it is our ‘bad cholesterol’ (we need), our diets, raising our children, our microbiomes, our sleep, our reproduction, it’s clear we cannot be trusted to know what we want and need for our own bodies and minds. It seems we may need such ‘talented special’ people to walk beside us at all times, in order to check where we spend our hard-earned money, what we eat, and in case we get sick and must turn around and ask permission to (and to pay) to look at our own cells. We can see our own strands of DNA in a jar with washing-up liquid, but due to modern patenting we probably do not own it.
In order to profit the researchers would prefer to medicalise everything by ‘disease mongering’, including giving labels like ‘epidemic’ to social problems such as e.g. obesity. On this topic, most obesity is thought to be related to such factors as poverty. It may be observed that many of the not impoverished researchers who promote their papers and work in this area are themselves suffering from overnutrition. However, perhaps due to their own surfeit of income, homes, holidays, subservient staff, domestic staff, material goods, catering, these researchers apparently lack any insight into the causes for the majority of the rest of the world. Receiving millions over a lifetime of public funding and pensions does nothing at all to help the nurse or true single parent on minimum wages and zero hours contract who comes home too exhausted mentally and physically to carefully choose and cook food for himself let alone family.
In terms of biotechnology, gene patenting and protein patenting have been illegal since 2015 in the USA (as described by Tania Simoncelli in the link below).
However, it is still possible in Europe. In addition, as always there are various way to try to get around the ideology and ‘spirit’ of the gene patent ban, for example by making a copy of the DNA, RNA, sequence, proteins etc. Many researchers are using public funds in order to try to patent the smallest of our human or animal sequences, processes, proteins, anything possible. It goes against open science and it does not benefit society but rather prevents innovation. It also harms society often at a very individual level when people can be denied drugs, cannot afford drugs, or when progress is held up by the thickets of patents each company must wade through. This seems to me to be abhorrent and morally completely wrong. It makes the question of whether it is ever discussed and publicised in any manifestos when talking about funding for higher education.
Did you know the funded institutions can use the funding entirely as they please? These are cells, processes and substances owned by us, held in our own skin. There may always be greedy and calculating people such as Martin Shkreli who, knowing slavery has been outlawed in theory, would probably want people to stay sick due to the profitability of modern biotech patent laws. But having public funded research and IP based on exploiting this is not just and is very harmful for a number of reasons. Believing that such avarice and ill will exists only in the private sector seems misplaced because the logical thing for many greedy and selfish people would surely be to exploit the public funding to gain possibility of IP which will benefit them personally in addition to a vast yearly salary, all without giving anything back to the funders.
It may come as a surprise to some people including inventors whose ideas, discoveries, inventions, and e.g. mechanical designs either work or don’t, that patents can be made in biochemistry for naturally occurring substances or processes even if their function is unknown and even if a use is merely posited and still unproven. If one looks at the number of patent applications for human genes, processes, sequences, proteins, and ligands such as GPCR’s, it is possible to see why the applications have become known as a ‘gold rush’.
I believe that millions of people would like ‘work’ whereby they received the following: 10x modal salary from the public and students; laboratory from the public and students; ability to conduct much work from abroad via skype or email, and permission to have flexible hours and no rules on outcomes; staff (public funded) who depend on the superior for assessment and grades; public (departmental) and student funding for all work carried out; rights to part of income from any IP and funding to achieve the IP patenting; and potential to have own company all of which was funded by the public and students.
The funders of such organisations could be said to be part of an unusual Dragon’s Den without knowing what we are funding, why we are funding it, and without owning any part of the resultant outcomes if any.
Seeking patents and attempting spin-out companies based on gene patents is so obviously harmful to humankind and open science, yet it is going on as you read this. It shows that the 'scientists' have no ideas or research aims which seek to change the world for the better, it's all about personal gain, ideally funded by the bus drivers, paramedics, nurses, hospitality workers.
Technology and engineering innovations work or don't work. Whereas in human biology billions of euros are being exploited by people who have few skills and who use the modern phenomenon publishing obsession to seek funding for research which will either bring no benefits to the general funding public or actually harm them In chasing yet another citation or paper, this also can waste millions of animals lives and cause a great deal of suffering to them.
But according to Mark Ferguson of SFI, "There’s no such thing as a failed research project." Presumably he doesn't think that his company Renovo represents a failure and any waste. Him and his wife apparently benefited to the tune of millions from a company and research which received taxpayers funding of millions. The SFI is responsible for giving grants to researchers including those at universities.
The promotion of higher education establishments as being research-based has enabled many people to be funded whose last ideal is teaching, hours helping students, or helping progress and open science.
Students who place value on ratings and things like QS systems may have little idea what is happening at universities and how this continued government funding for research may actually prevent innovation, and may be a detriment to everyone, not least the millions of animals give pain throughout short lives and then having necks broken in laboratories as part of the ‘publish or perish’ mentality. They should perish and stop this giant waste of all our money which we need to just pay bills after a day’s work on the roads, in hospitality, bus driving, site engineering, at the school, or in the hospital including as a surgeon. To my knowledge it is not permitted for any scientifically trained person such as a pharmacist, doctor, or surgeon to use a hospital’s resources to further their own interests such as income through any patents applied for as a result of using staff and laboratories. Likewise, not permitted at a school or government office. Whereas in a university it is the one place on earth where this happens. Many universities recruit researchers just before an assessment phase in order that the many papers to the name will add on more points. All is gaming in hope of maintaining a system of publicly funded research because the people at the top have very vested interests in terms of the worth and ‘respect’ (‘I’m working for the government, for humankind!’) of their past work as well as the next 20 years of desk work and pensions. Is it different to grifting? It is wasting money which is very needed by the people who are paying, where they live often unable to have a reasonable quality of life even though employed.
There are thousands of private companies large and small conducting research, many of which are also harmed by such public funding to a few with a mentality of ‘it’s there to be used’ no matter the source of the funding, the morality of it, and the clear poverty and social injustices around them in society. I would say these few are people who use taxis not buses, who stay in the best hotels in Rome and Venice, who may take their families along on trips, who may work alongside their spouses, who believe everyone will and should nod and never question what on earth they do each day, where they do it, and why they are being paid to do it. People who say ‘I’m a doctor’ despite not being near patients for many years if at all. A temporary student dependent on grading by a superior, or junior members of staff on temporary contracts, are not in an equal employment situation with most professors who are funded by the state, unlike most employees at private companies. Moreover, the guaranteed state funding provided to universities means that many small start-ups and private companies are at a huge disadvantage. There are a number of articles discussing this.
If you would like to grow a company involved in research then you would have a hard time because the universities receive so much and are able to use ‘research exemption’ in order to avoid paying for some licences. It would not be easy to compete with that even if your research and plans were good, because you would not have the same exemptions and your work could be prevented due to the millions of patents held for basic ‘sights’ which occurred in a university test tube or in animals.
In the comments below are some links to pages and talks relating to these issues.
If anyone who reads this believes the use of public funds for personal gain by university staff as well as things like gene patenting is wrong, then please please raise the issues with your local representatives and consider joining any groups lobbying for the banning of gene patenting.