Posted tagged ‘Dail Éireann’

Someone else’s summer holidays

July 8, 2010

Yesterday in Dáil Eireann (the Irish parliament’s Lower House) the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen TD, indicated that the House would not reconvene for normal business until September 29, some two weeks later than has been normal practice in previous years. Given the difficult state of the country’s finances, this does not seem easily justifiable. Perhaps I am also motivated to write this as, just today, I heard a member of the Dáil voice strong criticism of academic workloads (based on ill-informed views).

I do not begrudge parliamentarians, or anyone else, their holidays, which are, I believe, an essential part of maintaining motivation and energy. But this particular decision may not be sending the right message at this time.

The grade inflation show comes to the Dail

March 10, 2010

Last week during parliamentary questions in Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Irish parliament), the Minister for Education and Science, Batt O’Keeffe TD, was asked to provide information on the outcome of the two investigations he had launched earlier in the week into ‘grade inflation’. Here is what he had to say on third level results.

With regard to higher education, it is the case that the data presented indicate a trend of increasing award levels. The proportion of students gaining first class honours in level 8 degree programmes increased from 11.2% to 16.6% in the institutes of technology between 1998 and 2008, and from 8.3% to 16.2% in the universities between 1997 and 2008. Several contributory factors must be considered, including deliberate decisions on assessment standards prompted by external examiner findings aimed at aligning Irish standards more closely with international norms. Improved and more explicit assessment methods, with the development of learning outcomes-based approaches, and better prepared students are also arguably important factors.

Grade increases in higher education are, however, also argued by some to be indicative of a relaxation of standards. This is a subject of debate across systems internationally. Notwithstanding the inconclusive nature of that debate, my principal concerns in an Irish context are on two fronts. I want to safeguard and enhance the quality of our graduates and to ensure the robustness of our systems of quality assurance. The question of graduate quality is a complex one of fundamental strategic importance. The higher education strategy group is currently addressing the broader challenges involved.

It would have to be acknowledged that this statement is a a more reasoned and thoughtful response than some of the other statements that have been floating around. A couple of minutes later he also made the following statement.

We must not undermine in any way the quality of the degrees awarded by Irish institutions and, therefore, of the graduates they produce. It is because of the flexibility of our graduates and the high quality of the education they have received that multinationals choose to locate here. Continuing announcements of the creation of high-tech jobs indicate that there is confidence in our education system. We must challenge that system into the future. That is why I am putting in place a new qualifications and quality assurance agency which can go into the various institutions and compare one with another.

The first part of that last passage is sensible. The last statement – about using the new combined quality agency to ‘compare the various institutions with one another’ might give more cause for concern, not least because it would appear not to favour diversity of mission within the sector. In the end, for any high quality system of higher education, the autonomy of individual institutions must be respected, and diversity should be encouraged and celebrated. I confess I remain nervous about the future.