College lecturers say they are spending more time teaching ‘basic skills’

Almost 73% of academics surveyed indicate increasing student diversity

The survey of almost 1,200 academics was carried out for the report “Creating a Supportive Working Environment for Academics in Higher Education”. Photograph: Getty Images

The survey of almost 1,200 academics was carried out for the report “Creating a Supportive Working Environment for Academics in Higher Education”. Photograph: Getty Images

 

College lecturers are spending longer hours on “pastoral” work due to the increasing number of students entering third-level with complex needs, including language difficulties and a lack of basic writing skills.

That’s one of the findings of a major survey of academics in universities at Institutes of Technology (IoTs) published today.

Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of academics surveyed said student diversity had increased since they had started working in higher education.

“Students who were recruited onto courses with lower points than in previous years required support with basic skills,” the study found.

“An increasing number of students coming from abroad with language levels not appropriate to the programmes to which they were recruited was also viewed as a new challenge” – all of which “increased the pastoral aspect of academics’ work”.

The survey of almost 1,200 academics was carried out for the report “Creating a Supportive Working Environment for Academics in Higher Education”, which was commissioned by the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI).

Carried out by UCD educationalist Dr Marie Clarke, DIT researcher and TUI assistant general secretary Dr Aidan Kenny and sociologist Dr Andrew Loxley, it constitutes the Irish chapter of a European research project into working conditions at third-level.

Student ability

On the challenge posed by student ability today, one IoT lecturer is reported as saying that, because the points for courses like engineering had dropped, “you are spending an awful lot of time doing basic stuff and . . . you can’t produce the graduates with the knowledge that they need”.

Another IoT lecturer says: “I hate to be that blunt but that is what it has gotten down to, it’s all about money. We have brought students in from outside of Europe that cannot speak English and basically staff are being told pass them.”

The study notes that between 2007 and 2014 the higher education sector sustained funding cuts of 29 per cent or over €385 million. Over a similar period, student numbers rose by 16 per cent (31,640) while staff numbers fell by 4,500.

The report calls on higher education institutions to “make specific and public commitments to the teaching role of academics,” proposes “appropriate supports” for research, and advocates “a culture of academic collegiality” supported by management consultation.

The addition of two extra “flex hours” in teaching contracts at IoTs – boosting the number of weekly class contact hours to 18 – is a major source of grievance in the TUI, which has recommended rejection of the Lansdowne Road pay deal.

As well as pointing to low morale at third-level, the report paints a worrying picture of the research environment in universities and IoTs.

Lecturers on average said 70 per cent of their time was spent on teaching, 20 per cent on research and 10 per cent on administration.

In the university sector, teaching hours ranged from 172-216 hours, while in IoTs it reached as high as 560 hours. This excludes time spent on curriculum development, preparation work and assessment.