University Challenged

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Thomas Begley, former dean at UCD Business Schools, writes in today’s Financial Times:

Ireland wants to be known as the “innovation island”. It has done an excellent job convincing technology-based multinationals to locate subsidiaries there and presents an advanced educational system as a key competitive advantage. Unfortunately there is a growing gap between rhetoric and reality.
The reality is that Ireland has a primary and secondary education system whose students’ performance is slipping compared with other OECD countries and the positions of its universities are rapidly eroding in global league tables.
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He primarily blames the Leaving Cert:
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Points in this examination determine whether students gain admission to the higher education institution and programme of their choice. The tests promote rote memorisation, formulaic answers and a teach-to-the-test mentality. Students who score highest are those who can memorise and regurgitate the best. As a result they start college sorely lacking in the ability to analyse, critique, synthesise, formulate substantive arguments and write essays that engage these skills. In my former position, I was tired of batting back requests to “tell us what will be on the test”, we spent two years designing a curriculum to teach students to think. Our students were intelligent and motivated, but handicapped by a high-stakes educational assessment vehicle.

Oh and the government:

The Irish government’s response to the country’s severe economic crisis has placed universities under increasingly onerous constraints. The government’s reduced investment in the sector has precipitated larger class sizes, fewer full-time academic staff, lower levels of student services from a strained administrative staff and an ageing physical and technical infrastructure.

The Gap Between Rhetoric And Reality At Irish Universities (Thomas Begley, Financial Times)

Thomas Begley
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