Eithne Dodd examines the merits of UCD increasing its arts degree programmes from three years to four.
UCD is to introduce substantial reforms to its arts and social science degree courses in order to try and increase the chances of students having jobs upon graduation.
Currently, an arts and social science degree in UCD is completed within three years unless the student does a year abroad in which case they graduate with a “BA International” degree. In the future there will also be an option to complete a four-year Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Social Science. These new degrees will be 240 credits.
The new BA programme will run concurrently with the traditional programme. This means some students doing a three-year degree programme may be in classes alongside other students in a four-year programme.
“So, you’ll still be able to enter on a three [year] BA or a three-year Bachelor of Social Science, we also have an option of a four-year BSc in social science and a four-year BA in humanities” UCDSU Education Officer, Lexi Kilmartin, explained.
The four-year programme will include some more research-heavy modules as well as more technological enhanced learning methods, ‘structured’ electives and a possibility of an internship as part of the programme.
“This new course will be subject heavy and more structuralised. This aspect is intended to give students a better understanding of their fields with greater research skills”
Across both degree programmes, the university intends to introduce 10 credit modules. “These modules have two benefits to them; they would be more intense, and research focused meaning the students… will be more knowledgeable in these modules than in 5 credit modules. Their second intention is to cut down on the annual complaints from students that there is too many assignments. Therefore, 10 credit module assignments will be bigger, but will result in an overall smaller quantity of assignments” said Liam Brady, SU Arts and Human Science College Officer.
“From my understanding at BA Programme Board level the rationale behind this new BA Programme is to align the course to a more professional outlook with student’s applying themselves in a more career focused manner” said Brady.
“This is to enhance the employability of BA students. Another reason for this new course is that it will be subject heavy and more [structured]. This aspect is intended to give students a better understanding of their fields with greater research skills.”
It is still being discussed whether or not students in the three-year stream will be able to switch to the four-year stream and vice versa. “We’re looking at how someone could transfer from a four-year programme to a three-year programme; whether they’ll be a three-year exit route. We’re trying to figure out if that’s going to be a possibility” said Kilmartin. These changes are not expected to be implemented until 2018 at the earliest.
Arts Graduates and Employability
In the last few years, the points for UCD Arts Degree (DN500) has been dropping. Kilmartin believes this is not a reflection on UCD arts itself but a reflection of the push from schools, parents and the state to encourage Leaving Cert students to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) courses.
One of the most notable additions to the new programme is internships. “In a way, I personally believe that the internship in the four-year programme is the only additional factor that will enhance employability as it will add work experience onto the CV of the student upon graduation” said Brady.
“With the new four year arts programme and the recent changes to the HDip to make it a two year course means that it would take a UCD graduate the same length of time to qualify as a teacher than as a junior doctor.”
However, Brady also noted that no matter how it is dressed up, a BA degree is simply not worth as much to employers as a BSc. Brady also believes that in the current system a student could have a master’s degree in 4 years from UCD, which would be more valuable to employers. With the new four-year arts programme, and the recent changes to the HDip to make it into a two-year course, it would take a UCD graduate the same length of time to qualify to be a teacher or a junior doctor.
“From an employability point of view” said Kilmartin “I don’t think it’s [the new degree options] going to make much of a difference. Now the ability to take an internship or an extended research project might” she added.
“I think ultimately employability again is multi-faceted in terms of UCD’s general reputation needs to be addressed in terms of employability… it comes down to the vision and ethos you have for university and university graduates. Is it for them to be educated and enlightened or for them to be employed?”
Graduate surveys frequently find that of university graduates, arts degree holders and the most likely to be unemployed or underemployed and often earn less money that graduates from other disciplines.
As reported by the Irish Times, UCD Registrar Professor Mark Rogers said: “these degrees allow students to explore traditional arts and humanities and social sciences subjects in new and exciting combinations, while encouraging awareness of the core skills and competencies developed through this study,” he said. “This is further honed through internship, work experience, or study abroad.”
Kilmartin, however, is not convinced. “I think it’s difficult to capture the ethos of what they’re trying to achieve into something concise so in a way I think it is to add to employability in another way I think it is to add to the university’s coffers”.
A four-year degree will mean that UCD will receive a year’s additional tuition fees from its undergraduate arts students and potentially not have to spend as much on them. Say, if a student goes on an internship or simply does more electives in other schools within UCD, UCD will benefit from the additional fees without having to put on 60 credits worth of additional modules if it can make existing modules bigger.