I think we need to reduce the average time that students spend at third level. This is one area where I have been accused of elitism in the past, but my basic thesis is this: far too many students are spending too much time struggling through college in an attempt to get an honours degree and perhaps even Level 6 and 7 qualifications. In the universities, we almost feel an obligation to drag people through all four years once they have survived the first couple of years. There have been times in the past when our exam board meetings have been almost farcical such was our ‘compassion’. This leads to what we have today – at least in my experience – and that is a burgeoning failure rate in the final years of degree programs.
It is my view that many students who attend third level have the capacity and the commitment to study to Level 6 or 7 at most. To be eligible for Level 8 – a four-year program – one should have to meet certain standards in second and third year. I believe that all students should be given an ‘escape’ mechanism after each year – and they should have to avail of it. That means giving all the universities the ability to award qualifications at Level 7 (and maybe even Level 6) and to introduce demanding standards for Level 8 qualifications. Furthermore, the universities have to be open about this and not see the ‘production’ of Level 7 graduates as a failure on their parts. More importantly, we have got to get past the notion that not achieving Level 8 standard reflects a personal failure on behalf of the student. But this requires a buy-in from society and an admission by employers that many jobs do not really need four years of third level study. Indeed, there are some three-year degrees around that are validated to Level 8.
Many of our students in DCU, even those who are not academic high-flyers by any means, perform perfectly adequately on their INTRA work placement which they do at the end of third year. They then go on to stumble through final year where it is hard to see what personal benefit they gain and what added value the employer will eventually get as a result. This is particularly evident in project work where the weaker students perform satisfactorily only as long as they are given precise instructions on an almost daily basis. Independent research is beyond them.
We have got to stop thinking of education as a ladder that everyone is encouraged to climb and if you don’t make it to Level 8 rung (at least), you’re a failure.
Next Tuesday, I’ll talk about innovation.