I attended two events with several business leaders over the past couple of weeks, and in the course of the discussions on both occasions a number of them expressed the view that recent Irish graduates were not of the same quality and did not demonstrate the same standards as those of previous cohorts a decade or two ago. This view appeared to attract a lot of support, and so if it is held by stakeholders of the university system we may have a serious problem that we need to address.
Two factors appeared to be influencing opinions. One of these was the recent debate on grade inflation; it appears that the allegations made in this context have had some effect in undermining employer confidence in Irish graduates. When I pressed the issue, it seemed to me that the erosion of confidence was not related to any actual negative experience that might be connected with unjustifiably high grades, but was simply a reaction to the allegations made; they were assuming that if this message was being put about it must be true. This demonstrates, to my mind, not only that the debate distorted realities, but also that the university sector was really not good at dealing with it and responding to the points that were made.
The second factor appeared to be a widespread belief that students no longer worked hard at college. The businesspeople I met were largely of the view that students did not apply themselves to their courses as previous generations did, and that as a result they were less well prepared for working life, having got used to a life of idle leisure. I might add that some of those saying this specifically excluded DCU from their analysis, but of course this may have been influenced by my presence.
I was particularly struck by the widespread agreement that this assessment of the quality of our graduates was attracting. I am absolutely of the view that these views are wrong, but I am struck by the fact that we seem to have been unable to make a compelling case, or maybe even make any case at all, for standards in Irish universities. This may also be related to the fact that we are not good at publishing information that would present a more balanced picture, and in particular at getting data that would support our case.
Right now we are allowing it to be suggested to our students and our recent graduates that their achievements are not what they are claimed to be, which for them is a devastating allegation. We owe it to them to establish the real position, and if the criticisms are right we need to correct the problems; but if they are wrong we need to be in a position to establish convincingly that this is so.Explore posts in the same categories: higher education, students, university
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