Significant increase in class sizes at UCD Smurfit

Image Credit: Sinéad Mohan

The University Observer has found that there has been a significant increase in the class sizes in the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, particularly in MSc Business Analytics and MSc Digital Marketing, based on records obtained by Freedom of Information Requests.

The overall number of students has also increased from 1064 in the academic year of 2018/2019 to 1072 in the academic year of 2019/2020, to 1505 this year, 2020/2021. 

MSc Business Analytics currently has 114 students compared to 70 students in the academic year of 2019/2020 and 50 students in the academic year of 2018/2019. According to the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School’s website, the typical class size of a MSc Business Analytics class is advertised to be 64, based on a four year average. According to their website, MSc Business Analytics students pay €14,440 in fees if they are an EU student, but non-EU students pay €19,900.  

An anonymous MSc Business Analytics student said that class sizes were a factor for them “because when they teach you on campus it matters if you are just going to be a part of the mob or you will get the required attention. And people who are introverts and shy really need that because otherwise I would never ask or say anything myself.” 

A friend had “helped” them realize “that they just doubled the size of the class, which means that they were already planning to do the course online. Otherwise how would that have been possible? As the class size is huge, it’s really difficult to connect with your whole class. And then the increased size of the class means that more people are going to graduate at the same time and thus more competitiveness for jobs,” they said. “If they didn’t increase the faculty size or the class size. How would they have accommodated everyone if the classes were on campus?” 

MSc Digital Marketing has also experienced a jump in the number of students. In 2018/2019, the degree had 50 students, in 2019/2020 it had 62 students, this year it currently has 133 students. MSc Digital Marketing EU students pay €14,460, like non-EU students from MSc Business Analytics, they pay € 19,900 according to the graduate school’s website. This has caused some elective classes to have substantial class sizes. The University Observer has seen the elective Social Media Marketing has 91 students. As stated by the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School website, the class sizes, based on a four year average, is 58. The large class size “doesn’t add up at all” said an anonymous MSc Digital Marketing student. “It doesn't make sense. The only logical explanation I can come up with is that they knew it was going to be virtual. So, they took advantage of that.” 

Like the MSc Business Analytics student, they echo the same sentiment of being unable to connect with their classmates due to the big class sizes; “I don’t know half of my class because we are like 120, 130 people. If we had a smaller size of classes, we would be more familiar with who we are because we are doing a lot of teamwork projects . . . Someone messaged me on LinkedIn and I was like, who is she? And then I realized that we are actually in the same course. We're in the same class for the past four months”

According to the website, one of the benefits of studying MSc Digital Marketing was that “students receive consistent feedback and guidance” with its “limited class size”. The student said that feedback “was the biggest problem that we had as a class. We had this teacher and we never got feedback from them. We were doing weekly assignments for them. They said in the beginning that they wouldn’t be able to give individual feedback, but they can give general feedback of the assignment and they never did it. We asked our programme manager, they said that they will try to look into it, but nothing happened.” 

“I'm not going to be able to enjoy a classroom if I'm not there, because at the end it's kind of a private school, you're paying for it,” they said. “They're taking your money. So, they better make good of your money, but they don't.”

An Msc Aviation Finance student, who wished to remain anonymous, also came forward. Bigger class sizes have caused “less supply and more demand now” for internships. As part of completing a degree, students can opt to do an aviation industry internship. “It’s a small industry and they have I’d say four [companies] that actually sponsor the market. And then they offer internships as well. The only reason anyone does the Masters is to get an internship from those companies and it helps get a job out of it. . . .”  they said. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, “It’s a hard hit industry so it’s kind of hard to get those companies to offer internships anyway and then that means that the other companies aren't obliged to offer an internship.”

The University Observer reached out to The UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School to ask the following questions:

  1. At what stage was the decision to increase class sizes in Smurfit this year?
  2. Has there been an increase in the number of academic and support staff to maintain student:teacher ratios?
  3. Students who have spoken with The University Observer have stated that they have been informed by lecturers that individual feedback is not possible for all assignments for Digital Marketing. They further claim that they have not received even general feedback from lecturers, and while they have notified their programme manager, no changes have yet been made. What, if any, reassurances can be offered these students over the lack of feedback?
  4. Several students chose Smurfit for their education based on the average class sizes listed on the website, who now feel that they should have been informed that there would be a drastic increase in class sizes this year. What, if any, is the Smurfit response to this criticism?

At the time of publication, The UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School had not responded to the request for comment.