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Conference: What’s wrong with the University?

May 13, 2012

University College Cork, June 5 & 6, 2012.

For more information about this event, please click here.

These are testing times for universities and for those working in them. Staff are constantly exhorted to be more efficient without compromising quality; to compete with one another but also to collaborate; to be creative and be more accountable; and to foster autonomy in a regime of control. In short, public expectations of universities are confused and contradictory.

As universities have grown, they have embraced sameness, standardisation and technical rationality, which now threaten to stifle the heart of academic endeavour. Thus, a key question for those working in universities is how to deal, individually and collectively, with pervasive technologies of control. When is it right to resist bureaucratic instrumentalisation and the introduction of private sector practices, and when is there something to learn from them? In what spirit should we participate in attempts to measure our work, our teaching, our research? What are our job expectations, and how do we manage the uncertainty surrounding them?

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Gaming Examinations

April 5, 2012

What is Really Being Assessed?

Getting around an examination is a lot like getting around paying your taxes. You can cheat, which when applied to taxes is called ‘evasion,’ and risk unpleasant consequences if you are caught. A recent blog post addressed the issue of cheating in education.

Alternatively, you can use the loopholes left wittingly or unwittingly in the system by the powers that be. This, in financial management parlance, is called ‘tax avoidance‘ and it incurs no risks at all. Indeed, it may be positively encouraged.  We all know the myriad reliefs by which the rich in this country were, and still are in many instances, enabled to minimise their tax bill.

Examinations and other educational assessments can similarly facilitate avoidance – this time of work, learning and skill acquisition – while still allowing good grades to be obtained. In this post we focus on this gaming of examinations.

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Professor me arse

March 21, 2012

A chair for everyone in the audience!

Recently Dublin Institute of Technology hosted the bizarre, yet strangely inevitable, spectacle of the Institute awarding ten of its own academic staff “honorary professorships.” Bizarre because no such notion of professorship exists, and inevitable because it crystallizes the over-weening ambitions of the Presidents of the Institutes of Technology, who have lost sight of their mission during the recent period of expansion.

On the one hand, the prioritisation of growth has led Irish universities to hoover up academically unprepared students, undermining standards to the point where they have impaired their ability to distinguish between the good, the bad and the indifferent. On the other hand, the IoT’s have drifted away from their original mission and engaged in a head-long rush to be considered universities. In this post we look at how the latter has found expression in bizarre spectacles, such as the recent DIT dog-and-pony show.

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Grade Inflation: An Employer Opinion

March 14, 2012

The Network for Educational Standards receives a lot of interesting comments about grade inflation. In this post an employer writes about the difficulties of assessing graduates and their awarding institutions:

As an employer, we are entitled to an opinion on the subject and consequences of grade inflation, provided that our opinion is based on evidence we experience. Of course, our experience is only a factor of our own limited exposure. Our exposure indicates that in Ireland there is now a culture of entitlement that everyone has a degree, everyone has a first or second and that all of our academic institutions are centres of excellence in everything.

Assessing Awards: A business graduate with 1st class honours - but can he calculate a simple percentage?

In the absence of direction (we have asked unsuccessfully) of how to compare degrees, we have to decide which establishments offer worthwhile degrees in certain subjects. Obviously, we have turned to “QS Rankings” and similar, we ask students what points did their establishment accept for them to do a degree course and we also judge establishments on their “graduates”. For instance, if we interview a business graduate with a 1st, who cannot work out mentally to the nearest €500 what 12.5% of €3000 is, then we judge the awarding establishment, not the graduate.

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University President: Courses No Longer Challenge Top Students

March 12, 2012

Michael Murphy: brightest students are no longer challenged in Irish universities

The President of University College Cork has claimed that high achieving students are no longer challenged by courses in Irish universities.

Dr Michael Murphy recently told a chamber business group that the brightest students are shunning the Irish universities and are opting to pursue third level studies overseas.

Evidence of a stark decline in university standards was explained by the UCC President:

“For a start, surveys are now telling us that about 15 to 25 per cent of students in our universities are not challenged or motivated by their courses. The best students are telling us in public statements that this is the case.

The newspapers are telling us every August that the top point scorers in the leaving certificate are finding destinations overseas. I can tell you that academic colleagues tell me that they are sending their children to overseas universities and I can tell you that business is making it very clear to me that they are finding it increasingly difficult to fill posts that require academic talent in Ireland”.  (Interview on RTE News At One, 21 December 2011)

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Merger Mania and the Race for University Status

February 29, 2012

Will all the IOT Presidents Cross the University Line?

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has fired the starting gun on the race for university status . The criteria for designation as a ‘technological university’ were included as a mere appendix to a wider document with ambitious notions about restructuring the entire higher education sector.

For the most part, these HEA proposals are a mish mash of structural changes that have little to do with improving the quality of education. Written with the buzzwords of a jaded MBA module, the HEA document sets out how the ‘landscape’ at third level is to be upended into a new ‘configuration’ of consolidated institutions that will offer ‘differentiated’ courses in ‘clusters’ of ‘collaboration’.  Despite the intolerable blather, the objectives are reasonably sensible but there is utter confusion about how to get there.

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Cheating for an Easy Life

February 29, 2012

Cheating in education can take many forms. Whether it’s students looking for that elusive pass from the comfort of their beds, lecturers seeking the easy life or institutions inflating awards to staunch drop-out rates, over the last year cheating has been in the news with worrying regularity. In this post we look at some of the recent eruptions of malfeasance and try to uncover some of the common themes.

Students and the cheating industry

Everyone is familiar with cheating in examinations. Write down key ideas or formula and sneak it in to the exam. Whether its written on your arm or in your pencil case or even on your mobile phone, a quick glance at the right time can mean the difference between a pass and a fail.

For the more intrepid, you can always pay someone to impersonate you and take the test in your place. Eventually, they may get caught, but hopefully not before you get out the door.

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