A simple formula for education


Sir, – Ivan Yates’s opinion piece (Education Today, February 14th) made a lot of good, and spurious, points, but it was disappointing in one major respect. The entire focus was on the teaching side with not one mention of the student population. Unfortunately, he, like many commentators, has failed to recognise that university education, in particular, is no longer the preserve of the wealthy and the highly motivated. Whereas, in the 1980s, 20 per cent of the population may have gone to college, far in excess of 60 per cent are attending now. In effect, third-level education has gone from the education of the few to the education of the majority.

Anyone who thinks that this can be done without some drop in standards is deluding themselves. At the moment, lecturers find themselves constantly trying to adapt to the changing and enlarging student population and are stymied repeatedly by two problems: lack of basic skills in students leaving second-level and, sadly, a lack of commitment on the part of many of the students themselves.

Surveys that I and some colleagues have done suggest many students have a totally unrealistic idea of the amount of work involved in completing a four-year degree programme and, consequently, fall woefully short of the standards expected. This is a particular problem in the early years.

The real problem here is a societal one. Young school-leavers are being channelled, often against their better instincts, into third- level education. Frequently, this leads to jobs and careers for which a four-year degree, in particular, is not needed. The race to third-level is infecting the entire education system.

We need to stand back from all of this and take a long, evidence-based look at what our society and our economy needs from our education system. It is pointless to continue to laud ourselves for our high third-level participation rates without seriously asking whether they are necessary, desirable or even achievable while still maintaining quality.

In short, the formula is not simple; and real change means fundamental change, not tinkering. – Yours, etc,


School of Biotechnology,

Dublin City University,

Dublin 9.