Students pursuing what they believed was a Level 9 Post-Graduate Diploma in Education were notified last week that their course would be renamed the Professional Diploma in Education and that the course was now officially ranked at Level 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) scale.
The branding of the Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE), formerly the H. Dip, as a Level 8 course is not a University issue but an international one. It comes from the Bologna Process, which aims to standardise higher education across the European Union. The NFQ and Bologna Framework were aligned in 2006.
If the initiative is not rolled out at the same time across Europe, students feared that employment prospects of those who graduate with a Level 8 degree might be in danger when compared to those of students whose universities did not implement the change for two to three years and who are still graduating with a perceived Level 9 degree.
In an e-mail sent by Head of the School of Education, Prof. Ciaran Sugrue, students were notified that the Irish Universities Association (IUA) had “already been in contact with the relevant UK and international bodies to ensure that they understand that the H.D.E., the P.G.D.E ., the G.D.E. and the P.D.E. are all the same qualification”. The e-mail also stated that the decision applied to all graduates over the past several years.
Prof. Sugrue informed students that the change of title of the programme was officially ratified by the Academic Council of the University on September 22nd, and that the decision “was consistent with one already agreed by all of the Registrars across the universities, but until such time as the decisions were made, it was neither possible nor appropriate to make any announcement to that effect”.
The decision was made to “inform students as soon as possible” so that students would hear the information from UCD itself as the department “was aware that similar announcements were being made or about to be made in other institutions”.
The e-mail clarified that the PGDE has been a ‘floating’ qualification since the establishment of the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) though it was assumed to be a Level 9 course due to the programme being labelled as “post-graduate”. Due to the allocation of Level 8 status to the programme, the name of the course was consequently changed “to reflect the Level 8 status”, a move agreed between “the authority, the Registrars, and the IUA”.
The announcement caused major concerns in terms of grant applications; a student is eligible to qualify for a grant providing they continue up through the NFQ scale, for example taking a Level 9 course after a Level 8, but not if they pursue a qualification at a level at which they have previously qualified. These concerns were since allayed as the legislation involved makes an exception for teacher training grant allowances.
Students’ Union President Pat de Brún stated that there were major concerns with regard to communication; “there is no excuse [for] how it was communicated to students, there is also a question of legitimate expectation – all of these students have a receipt from their fees that they paid for the PGDE and are now being told that it’s not that”.