Colleges here award more firsts than in UK
IRISH universities are now awarding more first-class honours degrees than UK universities.
The revelation emerged in the preliminary findings of an investigation, ordered by Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe, into grade inflation in Leaving Certificate and third-level results.
It found that between 1997/8 and 2008, the proportion of firsts awarded by institutes of technology rose from 11.2pc to 16.6pc. The proportion of firsts awarded by universities here rose from 8.3pc to 16.2pc.
In the UK, the proportion of firsts awarded by universities rose from 8.4pc to 13.3pc.
The probe also found the proportion of Leaving Cert students gaining A or B grades on higher-level papers rose from 27pc in 1992 to 43pc last year. Most of the increase had taken place in the 1990s and early this decade.
But the analysis is largely neutral in indicating if the improvement in grades is good or bad for students and the education system.
The minister said there were differing views on whether grade increases, in themselves, were a cause for concern. Some argued the improvement indicated a wider relaxation of standards and pointed to a dilution of quality in the system.
"On the other hand, it can be argued that it indicates improvements in teaching, developments of assessment procedures or better motivated and better prepared students," Mr O'Keeffe said.
Irish and international studies suggested increased investment in teaching and learning, along with an enhanced focus on learning outcomes, had meant students were better prepared for exams.
However, the minister confirmed that influential employers had voiced their concerns about the quality of Irish graduates.
"We must listen to industry and be responsive to boardroom demands," Mr O'Keeffe added.
The Irish Universities Association (IUA) last night welcomed the minister's endorsement of the quality of Irish graduates.
The minister had highlighted the evidence from the World Economic Forum's 2009-2010 Global Competitiveness Report which ranked the quality of Ireland's secondary and tertiary educational system, as assessed by the business community, at eight out of 133 economies.
"This is further reinforced by the ratings given to the Irish universities by a broad sample of employers and which have fed into the improved performance of the universities in the Times Higher/QS University rankings," IUA chief executive Ned Costello said.
General of Engineers Ireland director John Power said industry chiefs must take greater responsibility to ensure that the highest standards of education are safeguarded.
He welcomed the minister's commitment to ensure the highest education standards were maintained.
"The engineering profession in Ireland is doing its utmost to ensure that the standard of engineering graduates keeps up with international standards," he said.