Ask Brian: How can my son get the help he needs at third level?

The lack of one-to-one support is shocking

The number of students per lecturer has increased hugely, explaining your son’s experience in college

The number of students per lecturer has increased hugely, explaining your son’s experience in college

 

PROBLEM: My son is finding the demands of third level difficult. The lack of one-to-one support, through tutorials or opportunities to talk to senior lecturers about their subjects, which I took for granted in my day, is shocking.

 

ADVICE: Since the economic crisis, third level has taken the brunt of education cutbacks: funding has fallen 36 per cent, according to the European Universities Association (compared with growth figures of more than 20 per cent in many northern European countries). The recurrent grant to colleges per student has dropped continuously, and universities are also subject to the public-sector employment-control framework, with specific staff reduction targets.

These have hugely increased the number of students per lecturer, explaining your son’s experience. Such State funding cuts endanger the attractiveness of Irish graduates to employers.Without funds to employ the brightest and best, Irish colleges depend on PhD students to provide a proportion of undergraduate lectures and tutorials. This is part of what former UCD president Hugh Brady described as the trend towards yellow- pack undergraduate education.

In many colleges, it seems, senior staff see lecturing as a role for junior staff. Against this trend, Prof Philip Nolan, president of Maynooth University, delivers an undergraduate biology class as an example of best practice. It would be wonderful to see this copied by the senior staff in all third-level institutions.

None of this helps your son as he struggles with the challenges of a third-level system under such pressure. He has to become proactive immediately to get his needs met. Lecturers and tutors will be willing to help him with what he has difficulty understanding, but they have far more students than they can support effectively.

I suggest he email the lecturer in any course where he is having difficulty, seeking to talk about his problems.

Most importantly, he should make full use of all tutorials, even if they are not with the main lecturer. If he has problems with grades in the exams, a student who has engaged with all support services and submitted assignments on time will have the maximum number of credits, and will be facilitated by the academic department. At many academic marking conferences, students who are marginally below a required mark may be upgraded based on their engagement with and commitment to their studies.

 

DIARY DATE: For students thinking of a career in medicine, RCSI has a new interactive live-streamed video broadcast for second-level students called So You Want to Be a Doctor? The three-part series features doctors in Dublin’s Beaumont and Rotunda hospitals, offering a glimpse of their working lives and specialities.

First up, at 6pm on Thursday, November 19th, are Prof Fergal Malone (Rotunda obstetrics and gynaecology), Prof James Paul O’Neill (ENT surgeon at Beaumont) and series presenter Prof Arnold Hill (RCSI head of school of medicine, on his research and innovations in breast cancer surgery).

December and January episodes include a microbiologist, a gastroenterologist, a neurosurgeon and an orthopaedic surgeon. Students can send questions via email, Facebook or Twitter using #RCSIBeADoc, to be answered live on air. rcsi.ie

  • Your education queries answered. Email education expert Brian Mooney with your query: askbrian@irishtimes.com
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