This article in the Guardian is pretty scathing about Irish university students’ ability to write, especially essays.
I teach all years of a four-year science degree and my thinking about writing skills is this:
Students arrive in college and they can write reasonably well – slightly childishly but generally ok from a grammatical point of view.
They then find themselves having to write about subjects that are often quite technical and in areas where they are complete novices. In science, for example, they are required to write very precisely and they are asked to write about material that they might be struggling to understand. And they have to do it on a computer, something that creates many challenges especially in the sciences where equations may be involved.
All of this novelty leads to cognitive overload and my sense is that students writing skills regress as a result, only to recover by the time they are in final year when they have a far better understanding of the material they are writing about.
I think we need to be a little less critical of them, and us.