The National Qualifications Authority was established in 2001 to develop and maintain the National Framework of Qualifications, to facilitate the access and progression through the span of education and to promote the maintenance of the standards of awards.
Under this framework, educational qualifications were given levels, e.g. the Leaving Certificate was set at Level 6, an Honours Bachelor’s Degree and Higher Diploma at Level 8 and a Masters and Post-Graduate Diploma at Level 9.
The Post-Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) had not previously been set at a particular level, but was perceived by students to be a Level 9 qualification due to its name. Therefore, the re-naming of the degree to a Professional Diploma in Education and its conceived ‘downgrade’ to a Level 8 NFQ qualification was seen by students as having the potential to devalue their degree and give it less academic significance than those awarded in previous years.
However, from communication with the university, it can be deduced that the change will in fact have little significant impact on students. Grants will still be paid out and the qualifications of 2012’s graduates will be on a par with those preceding them.
In a statement posted on the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland’s website, an assurance is made that student financing through the grant system will not be affected, “the adoption of the new title by the universities will not … affect student entitlements under the existing Student Maintenance Grant Schemes. This has been confirmed in the 2011 Student Grant Scheme”.
The change was carried out as part of a European Union directive to standardise higher education across the EU. As a result of this, all students qualifying with a PGDE or similar degree would be on the same level when it came to employment.
An issue that remains is the manner in which students were informed of the change. It would appear that there was confusion among UCD’s School of Education itself as to the level of the degree students would be leaving with as, according to students, the announcement defined a change being made specifically from a Level 9 to a Level 8 qualification and a change in name. The change in the name of the degree was made to reflect making the degree a Level 8 qualification. Surely this is indication enough that students were correct in perceiving the degree to be Level 9 to begin with.
The students in the PGDE course are all adults who have completed some form of an undergraduate degree and many have completed a Masters; they are qualified professionals. Why did the University then deem it appropriate to treat them in such a condescending manner? What made it appropriate for a member of staff from the School of Education to stand before them and casually inform them that the name of their course, for which they had registered in December, had been changed and that its qualification now stood at Level 8?
It is an embarrassment that students were mislead for so many years over the qualification they were receiving. To name the degree a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education when the NQF clearly stated on the diagram that defines levels and corresponding degree titles, which is no doubt familiar to all PGDE students at this stage, that a Post-Graduate Diploma gave a Level 9 qualification, is a disgrace.
The question consequently arises as to why the degree had no level assigned to it in the first place. The idea of a “floating” qualification for so many years is absurd. Between the academic years beginning 2006 and 2007, universities across Ireland renamed their Higher Diploma in Education as either a Postgraduate Diploma in Education or Graduate Diploma in Education. Why then at this stage, was a level not assigned and why was the degree instead given a misleading name?
Students would not be inclined to check what degree of qualification they were receiving when it was supposedly clearly laid out for them in the title. Because of this, the frustration and anger that PGDE students across Ireland are feeling as a result of the recent announcement is completely understandable. Nothing but shock can be displayed at the sheer disorganisation that has now been revealed to have been exhibited in the international education system over the past number of years.
Despite an e-mail sent out by the Head of the School in an effort to reassure students that their degrees will be held to the same esteem as those of the years preceding them and that their grant status will stay fixed as it was, they remain unsure as to what exactly their futures hold and what opportunities their qualification will bring them.