Staff concerns for future UCD academic standards


Demand for regulation to protect university’s reputation

A NUMBER of academic staff members have expressed their unease over a risk of academic standards being lowered within the university over recent years. Individual staff members have warned that current exam grade inflation may negatively impact upon UCD’s future academic reputation if components of the Horizons scheme are not regulated. The comments come as academics fear that the university will be put under pressure by the Government to accept higher numbers of students while investment in academics may not be matched.

One academic has stated that the modular nature of the Horizons system allows students to take entry-level modules in areas in which they have already qualified. “There is a suspicion that students may be taking courses that they shouldn’t and that is something that should be structurly set by the programme that you’re in. You can’t have people getting double credit for the same thing. It’s not completely unmanageable but my guess is that there are leakages”.

To counter this, staff members have suggested that programme offices should be explicitly establishing which modules could or could not be taken by students in various schools in order to prevent student stactically choosing modules that teach basic material that the students may have taken as part of their first year modules.

A number of academics questioned also listed concerns regarding funding for additional tutors and demonstrators. One staff member explained that many of their colleagues harbour worries that the university might not have sufficient recourses to cater for an increase in student numbers. “For the [students] who are not quite so gifted, I would worry that maybe our facilities for them may be being wittled away”.

Describing this as a “general complaint that a lot of people would have”, the staff member echoed a number of those interviewed, questioning the manner in which the university’s resources are allocated. “Money seems sometimes to be given to windowdressing instead of stuff that is really important [and] you do worry about that kind of thing”. Explaining that these issues will not just affect the standard of undergraduate work, an academic pointed to an international “downward pressure” on PhD courses, adding that “a PhD. now is a very different beast from one 20 years ago. There has been a re-jigging of expectations.”

When questioned about grade inflation across the university, Registrar Dr Philip Nolan stated that, “the University reviews, on a semester-by-semester basis, the profile of grades achieved by students across the entire university.  There is no evidence within these data of any systematic or general trend that would indicate the grades awarded are anything other than valid or appropriate”.

Dr Nolan denied claims made by a number of staff members that the role of external examiners may have been diminished in recent years, stating that, “the procedures followed by external examiners have been adapted to the modular system, in a manner approved by Academic Council.  The role of the external examiner has in no way been diminished: in fact, their role in quality enhancement has been strengthened.”