Plans to review teaching quality in universities ‘exasperating’

Lecturers call for increased funding for third level amid deteriorating staff-student ratios

College lecturers have criticised plans which they say could result in rankings on teaching quality which place a major emphasis on student satisfaction. 

The Irish Times reported recently that a review into the quality of higher education is to be carried out by the Government following concerns over the impact of falling investment and rising student numbers. The UK has sought to address this issue in recent years through a new “teaching excellence framework” to measure teaching quality. It uses a range of different metrics – such as students’ satisfaction and graduate outcomes – to compile a “gold, silver and bronze” league table.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Education Richard Bruton said a consultation paper on the issue of teaching quality is due later this year. She also confirmed that a revised national annual graduate outcomes survey is being drafted, which is due to be in place by next year. While the department has not disclosed any specific plans for a teaching excellence framework, the Irish Federation of University Teachers said the suggestion of such a move was “incredible and exasperating”.

The federation’s general secretary, Mike Jennings, said: “How can anyone seriously propose that our already short-staffed and overworked universities should divert even more funds and personnel to more form-filling and bureaucracy?”

Bureaucratic approach

He said such a system here would simply replicate a cumbersome, bureaucratic approach that has failed to deliver improvements in English third-level, and ignores the real problems facing third-level education in Ireland. “The issues at third-level in Ireland are already clear: greatly reduced teaching staff numbers and ever-increasing student enrolment, compounded by a starving of the sector of necessary state investment,” he said. “This is not just in our view, it is mirrored by statements from Ibec, the Higher Education Authority and other bodies.”

The Higher Education Authority warned earlier this year that the quality of graduates from Irish third-level institutions was at risk following a sharp fall in public funding and rising students numbers. In its annual performance report, it noted that staff-student ratios had deteriorated significantly, rising from about 1:16 to 1:20, significantly above the average for developed countries. “It is reasonable to conclude that the departure of the staff-student ratio from stable international norms will impact the quality of the student experiences,” the report stated.

The spokeswoman for Mr Bruton said the standard of education experienced by students depended highly on the quality of the workforce and the systems in place to support evaluation.

Consultation paper

She confirmed that a consultation paper on teaching quality matter is being prepared which is set to feed into a review of issues relating to quality in universities and institutes of technology.
However, Mr Jennings said the Government did not need another consultation and review on higher education. “There are reviews and recommendations piling high on government shelves that have remained unimplemented,” he said. “Any suggestion of introducing a teaching excellence framework-based approach in Ireland will further demoralise our universities, weaken their status internationally and feed into a further cost-cutting mentality.” Mr Jennings said there was already evidence of the model being used in the UK for further staff cuts. “The Government should plan to deliver a significant increase in third-level funding in the forthcoming budget to address years of spending retrenchment, not seek to create smokescreens in an attempt to dodge the necessary funding decisions for yet another year,” he said.


This article written by Carl O'Brien, first appeared in the Irish Times website, Wed 9th August 2017. The original article can be located here: link