University heads defend quality of graduates


UNIVERSITY PRESIDENTS have moved to defend standards in higher education amid allegations of significant grade inflation and concerns raised by US multinationals about the quality of graduates.

The seven presidents say they do not dispute the increase in higher degrees but say this can be explained by a variety of factors – including more transparent assessment and wider access to learning materials.

College heads say they are concerned at recent statements calling into question the quality of Irish university graduates.

“The general implication of these statements that the grades awarded to students are unmerited is largely based on the fact that the proportion of students achieving higher grades has increased over time.

“This detracts from the hard- won achievements of students and distracts from the real issues facing higher education institutions as they struggle to maintain the student experience against a backdrop of falling investment.”

Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe will today give the Dáil details of the Department of Education report into grade inflation. This is expected to highlight a dramatic increase in first-class honours degrees since 1994 and significant grade inflation in Leaving Cert results from 1995 until about 2005, when it began to stabilise.

Last night’s statement issued by the group’s representative body the Irish Universities Association comes after reports that US multinationals are reluctant to recruit graduates from some Irish universities and institutes of technology because of declining standards .

A senior executive at Google, John Herlihy, has said that while the company recruits in all seven Irish universities, it recruits principally from three – UCD, Trinity and UCC.

The Irish Universities Association says some of the data reported in the media on grade inflation – including an internal TCD study – exaggerates the level of increase which has taken place.

University presidents say there are several factors including:

more transparent assessment strategies and instruments, more feedback on student performance and, in general, better information for students;

a greater ease of access to learning materials, through communications technology, availability of e-learning resources, podcasting and on-line material;

a significantly increased emphasis on graduate education which creates demands for higher achievement at undergraduate level in order to secure entry to master’s and PhD programmes;

the spreading of the assessment load through semesterisation with a stronger link between learning and its assessment;

a revised approach to marking within the NUI universities to bring their marking schemes into line with international practice;

an increasing number of honours degree programmes, and

a growing cohort of motivated and focused mature students.

The association says the procedures for quality assurance and enhancement in all the universities are widely regarded as best practice in Europe.