University classes 'too big'
College warned overcrowding could hurt reputation
FIRST year arts students in the country's fastest growing university are attending overcrowded lectures with up to 400 undergraduates.
The National University of Ireland Maynooth has been told to tackle large classes, especially in the popular English and geography subjects.
"Any delays in giving the issue urgent attention risks damaging the student experience at NUI Maynooth and, in the end, may be detrimental to the university's reputation," says a report prepared by an international review team.
The report heaps praise on the "excellent progress" towards an ethos of academic excellence and quality in Maynooth. It says student numbers have grown rapidly but without a proportionate increases in financial resources.
"This has resulted in an unfavourable lecturer-student ratio and extremely large student cohorts, especially in first year, in some disciplines (for example, geography and English)," says the report by the Irish Universities Quality Board (IUQB).
It recommends addressing the problems of large classes by adopting more creative and innovative approaches.
University deputy president Professor Jim Walsh agreed that first-year geography and English students attended lectures with 350 to 400 others three or four times a week.
But, he said, these were accompanied by tutorials and podcasts of the lectures.
Even though some lectures were large, the use of hand-held devices in geography for instance allowed interaction with the students. He stressed that lectures had much smaller class sizes from second year onwards, when students had greater choices. But the report also found inadequate funding for maintenance of teaching and research equipment, a low level of start-up funds for new academics and crowded library facilities.
It suggests that Maynooth make representations to the highest level of Government in an attempt tackle funding.
It should also address, as a matter of urgency, the lack of adequate administrative support for deans and heads of academic departments, some of whom have "grossly inadequate" support in their work.
The report is the first of its kind by the IUQB whose chief executive Dr Padraig Walsh defended the robust nature of the quality control systems in Irish universities, saying it was in line with the best internationally. The board of the IUQB, which was set up by the universities in 2002, has representatives who are academics, as well as from the employers' body' IBEC, students and others.
He also said Ireland's educational reputation was being damaged by "dumbing down" claims, and that the increase in first class honours degrees had brought us into line with the UK.