Danielle Moran discusses the question of academic standards in UCD.
Universities may be starting to look more attractive. Of course Belfield’s concrete campus isn’t particularly eye-pleasing at times, however beauty may be in the eye of the thousands of students who are currently in the process of applying to UCD for both undergraduate and graduate degrees.
It’s inevitable that as the economic forecast remains unstable, students will opt to shelter in university instead of venturing into an unwelcoming working world and this is not a negative thing. Education is the driving force behind any economy – the more students universities take in, the more highly-skilled graduates they will push out. By investing time and much energy into their third-level education students will also win as holding stronger degrees should push their professional careers out of the economic danger zone.
However academics’ fears that the university and its reputation could begin to spiral downwards is something of concern. Grade inflation, whether as a negative or positive result of the Horizons scheme, certainly appears to be prevalent across many colleges throughout UCD. If this is due to the structure of continuous assessment, as suggested, and more students are taking B’s as grades now depend on a number of take-home assignments, group work and tests instead of a single exam on the day of which students have an attack of nerves or are just ill prepared, we can proud of our graduates.
Yes, yearly two hour exams sound more difficult yet almost all Horizons graduates would agree that sitting continuous assessment and maintaining a solid average grade is more difficult. Not only this, but the current assessment structure is far more relatable to real life where graduates will be expected to perform consistently. However if a number of UCD graduates are unable to perform basic mathematic and analytic tasks, the institution and those who attend it will be tarnished, and it will be difficult for the university to recover.
Staff fears that funding will not be forthcoming for academic priorities is particularly worrying for students. No doubt there will be pressure from the Government for more spaces at third-level, and this will be reciprocated by university authorities for increased funding, regardless of whose pocket that finance comes from – the students’ or the Governments.
With more spaces in third-level courses, someone will be expected to pay out. In particular, as one academic explained, if it is the case whereby students are paying for their education they will rightly expect to get their money’s worth. This academic stressed the importance of spending on tutors and demonstrators which would enable the schools across the university to make small group classes much smaller, giving much more of the instructor’s time and attention to individual students.
In fact, the return of the older idea of universities and the working relationships that commonly emerged between staff and students could be encouraged with funding of more tutor and demonstrator positions. If this does not come to fruition in a climate where an increase in student numbers is not only preferable, but essential, then this university and many of those across the country could face much negative, worldwide attention.
An increase in students taking on the challenges of third and fourth level education is obviously the right option. It’s incredibly difficult to argue with that, as one academic staff member stated, “this place is meant for mass education”. Yet with the rise in numbers, those in the university’s budget must rise too. This investment can only be spent responsibly on improving academic standards – filling the libraries with books and filling the buildings with academic staff. If UCD can manage to do this, then its many graduates can certainly stand tall.