Arts degrees overhaul to target better job prospects

UCD plans major changes to biggest third-level course in the country

University College Dublin is to extensively reform its arts degree courses to try and improve the chances of students getting jobs when they graduate.

Points for arts degrees have been falling in recent years as students and their parents question the job prospects linked to these qualifications.

UCD, whose BA in arts is the biggest third-level degree course in the country, is planning a series of new degrees with internship options which will extend the length of some from three to four years. The changes, which will affect an annual intake of about 1,400 students, are due to come into effect from September 2018.

Optional internships

Maynooth University, which says its arts degree attracts the most first-preferences in the State, is considering extending its flagship arts degree from three to four years, in some cases, with optional internships or research.


Graduate surveys over recent years show arts graduates earn less and are less likely to be in employment than other disciplines.

However, employers and academics point out that while starting salaries are lower, arts graduates’ skills, such as critical thinking and communication, are highly valued and that many reach senior positions within organisations.

UCD said its changes are aimed at “enhancing students’ educational and employment opportunities” and follow curriculum review and consultation.

A move towards more four-year courses is likely to generate additional revenue for universities at a time of a funding crisis for the sector. However, sources in both UCD and Maynooth insist the changes are not financially-motivated.

UCD's registrar, Prof Mark Rogers said the degrees emerged from "a deep reflection on how we can best expose our students to the world leading expertise and knowledge of our faculty".

“These degrees allow students to explore traditional arts and humanities and social sciences subjects in new and exciting combinations, while encouraging awareness of the core skills and competencies developed through this study,” he said. “This is further honed through internship, work experience, or study abroad.”

New degree programmes

UCD’s plans involve three new arts and humanities degree programmes, and four social science programmes. For example, its BA degree will become a joint-honours degree run over three years, with an option of a fourth year in an overseas partner university.

Students may choose a two-subject major (such as art history, English, geography, etc), or a major plus a minor, from a choice of 19 subjects.

It will also offer a four-year humanities degree with nine different options such as "Celtic studies, art history and history", or "English, drama and creative writing".

Another degree option is a four-year modern languages programme, in which students choose a two-subject combination from French, German, Italian and Spanish.

In the area of social science, there will be four main programmes under the changes. The main social sciences degree will have five options, taken over four years with internship, study abroad and extended research options. Its economics degree will remain at three years, as will its psychology and social sciences and sociology degree.

The entry number for students across these new structures will remain at about 1,400 students annually.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent