I haven't a clue if lecturers are doing their jobs, says minister
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has admitted that both his department and the Higher Education Authority "haven't a clue" if lecturers or tutors are doing their jobs at universities and colleges across the country.
Ruairi Quinn told University of Limerick (UL) students this week that it was solely up to them to evaluate those who are paid to educate third-level students and provide feedback on their performances. He warned that the status quo would continue until third-level institutions addressed the issue.
Mr Quinn told up to 100 students and academics that the Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority "haven't a clue if lecturers are doing the job for which they are being paid".
He urged third-level students to be "critical consumers" of the education they receive. There are 139,000 full-time undergraduate students across the country.
"Who's going to tell us? Nobody else but the consumers. Who are the consumers? Yourselves, and there should be a responsible way in the evaluation because the head of department and certainly not the president of an institution will necessarily know -- no more than any other organisation," Mr Quinn said.
"The dynamic of group loyalty in any kind of organisation is that you defend the weakest against the outsider -- and you defend, sometimes, the indefensible under that code. Therefore the only people who can tell us that the contract between the lecturer and the institution, the department and the university is being delivered on the ground, is the student body.
"A bad shop is bypassed by customers who go to the next shop. A bad restaurant doesn't get repeat business. I think there has to be some response from the user of the service provided in an open market economy like ours. People can exercise their choice by moving to another supplier of the service."
Mr Quinn said lecturers had to be held accountable if they were not doing their job properly.
"I would leave that (holding lecturers to account) entirely to the institution. If they are not performing and it is not a capital offence, but it is a big offence to that generation of students who experience poor performance, there should be some way of holding them to account," he said.
Mr Quinn said the service that students should expect from their lecturers and tutors were the normal courtesies.
"Are they turning up, are they doing their job -- simple as that. The student is consuming and experiencing the delivery of education which is not a market commodity, but they are experiencing it."
He said anecdotal evidence of how paid lecturers were not doing the jobs at third level would continue to emerge unless "a structured alternative" was put in place.
"Any sector that is funded by the State through the taxpayer will be subject to anecdotal-based abuse or criticism unless the institution itself decides to put in place a robust and transparent system of evaluation," he said.
Mr Quinn was speaking in UL last Thursday, where he addressed journalism students at the inaugural 2012 'Issues in Irish Journalism' seminar series.