Lecturers oppose setting aside of fail results

 

THE THIRD-LEVEL system faces new controversy about an alleged “dumbing down’’ of academic standards after the results of 36 students who failed an exam at Tralee Institute of Technology were set aside.

The college authorities made the decision despite a report from an external examiner who concluded the exam papers were correctly marked and that the questions were “appropriate’’ for the students in question.

Lecturers at the college have voted no confidence in the institute’s quality assurance systems. They have asked their union to write to the Department of Education, requesting a formal investigation by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (Hetac), the body responsible for higher education standards.

But the president of the Tralee institute, Dr Michael Carmody, expressed confidence in quality assurance procedures at the college.

Student representatives at the college say they had complained in advance that the exam in question was too harsh. Twenty-seven of the students who failed the exam requested a review.

The controversy surfaced in May when the majority of third-year students of a level seven degree course, Health and Leisure, and business degree students failed an “Introduction to Psychology ’’ module.

An external examiner found that the “content [of the exam] was as one would expect in an undergraduate psychology module”.

However, after considering this report, the institute’s examinations assessment review committee decided students could take another elective module; or progress to fourth year and carry forward another module from level seven; or sit the exam again as a first attempt without any penalty for failing the exam.

The decision prompted an emergency meeting of academic staff, members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, in June. Concern was expressed at the manner in which academic standards had been undermined.

The psychology module in question was delivered by lecturer Martin O’Grady, one of the founder of the Network for Irish Educational Standards. This is the group that has raised concerns about grade inflation in Irish education.

Mr O’Grady is also chairman of the union branch at the institute.

In a statement to The Irish Timeslast night, the institute said the exams review committee had decided that “a number of options be made available to the students concerned to satisfy the academic standards required to achieve their programme reward”.

Dr Carmody said the decision had been approved by the Academic Council, while both the governing body and Hetac had been notified. He said he had “full confidence in the professionalism and integrity of the academic and management staff of the institute” who participate in quality assurance procedures.

The controversy is the latest in a series of incidents that raise questions about academic standards in the institute of technology sector. Earlier this year, 100 students who failed part of their final exam at Cork IT were upgraded.