Surge in first-class honours at institutes of technology

‘Grade inflation’ on rise as proportion of first-class honours doubles in 15 years

 Institute of Technology Tallaght: latest data indicates that institutes of technology managed to produce more first-class degree performances than universities. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Institute of Technology Tallaght: latest data indicates that institutes of technology managed to produce more first-class degree performances than universities. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

The proportion of students at institutes of technology graduating with first-class honours degrees has doubled in the past 15 years, new figures show.

The authors of a new report said the findings show grade inflation “is a fire that  will not be quenched”, with sharp rises also evident in distinctions across ordinary degrees and higher certificates.

The latest data indicates that institutes of technology managed to produce more first- class degree performances than universities.

This is despite the fact that at honours degree level, the typical CAO points tally for a student at an institute of technology was 357, compared with 462 for a university.

The latest research is based on grades recorded between 2009 and 2013 in the institute of technology sector. It does not include data for the Dublin Institute of Technology.

It was conducted by the Network for Irish Educational Standards, form- ed in 2005 in response to a perceived decline of standards in the education system.

In a commentary accompanying the research, the report’s authors, Martin O’Grady and Brendan Guilfoyle – both lecturers at IT Tralee – note a major shift towards honours degrees over recent years among institutes of technology.

They say the upward academic shift, in the absence of a major improvement in the ability of entrants, should have been accompanied by a decline in the rate of better grades.

However, an analysis of CAO points shows that a consistent increase in higher grades has not been accompanied by any substantial increase in points for those entering institutes of technology.

“Moreover, due to grade inflation in the Leaving Certificate since the early 1990s, the average CAO applicant’s points score has risen by about 100. This means that in relative terms, entry points for institute of technology courses have been in decline all along.”

While similar trends of grade inflation have been observed in universities, the increase has been sharper among institutes of technology.