“only a complete recall of the affected models will restore market confidence…”

Irish University presidents have defended the standard of education in their colleges as the Dáil awaits details from the Irish Minister of Education, Batt O’Keeffe, of his department’s report on ‘grade inflation’ – as mentioned here. Interestingly the review was announced following a meeting between the Minister and representatives of a number of US multinational companies, including Google and Intel. Until the report is unveiled I’ll leave you with Frank McNally’s Irishman’s Diary

It is understood the problem involves both second- and third-level graduates, produced on a range of assembly lines between 1992 and 2004. All makes are potentially affected. But among those causing particular concern is the best-selling Maynooth first-class honours model, one of Ireland Inc’s recent success stories: production of which increased by 700 per cent during the boom years. The sporty, fast-talking UCC model, premium versions of which rose by 174 per cent during the same period, is also being investigated.

But safety fears are not confined to the company’s luxury products. The hybrid Institute-of-Technology diploma holder, a mainstay of the family and budget sectors of the market, is thought to be at risk too. And even the humble Leaving Cert graduate, still popular as an urban runabout, may now be suspect.

Update RTÉ reports that “The Minister for Education has said he is satisfied that grade inflation is not a problem at Leaving Certificate level and that proper controls are in place.” But the iol report notes that “A new university grades watchdog is being set up after US multinationals complained about the standard of Irish graduates”.

Mr O’Keeffe said there were a number of conflicting arguments as to why top university and third-level grades had increased over the past 10 years in Ireland, and internationally. These included a deliberate decision to align Irish standards with the UK and elsewhere, that students were better prepared and motivated or simply that grade increases were a result of a drop in standards. The minister refused to say what reasons he believed were behind the trend and would only insist it was a complex issue.

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  • Paddy

    The Yanks should check out hteir own supermarkets, sich as Harvard where grade inflation is also rampant. Or English one year master’s courses, where (Chinese) staff and students don’t have a rudimentary command of English.
    Degrees and diplomas are now for the masses.

  • Mack

    I’m slightly sceptical of the boycott story. It’s straightforward enough in software to spot a complete duffer in an interview or phone screening session. Although I’ve certainly come across a few with pass grades from Irish colleges.

    Most software companies seem to be hiring more and more immigrants. That’s not to say the best Irish graduates aren’t getting hired – they are. There aren’t always enough of them and lowering your hiring standards is a sure fire way to lower the quality of your output…

  • Why do this? Grade inflation is now common practice world wide. Our graduates face competition from the graduates of other universities as well as our own. This serves no purpose. To be successful graduates have to do the job and that is the greatest and most rigorous test of all.

  • Catherine

    The dumbing down ( which is what grade inflation is) of education standards is not limited to the Free State. As someone rightly points out, it is common in all European and American educational institutions. Yet, we know that having higher education standards gives us an edge when international development and investment is at issue.

    (And here we are…. with an Education Minister who wishes ‘comprehensive’ education upon us…

    Retaining academic selection of some description is vital to our education system. Addressing the challenges within the existing system would be more in our interests in the long term.)

  • Mack

    For those wondering why Ireland –

    It’s worth pointing out that 57% or so of 18 year olds go to college in the south. That is much higher number than in many other countries, and possibly almost double the number of Irish students going to college in 1990.

    The distribution of intelligence in the population hasn’t changed – therefore if courses and marking remained as tough as in 1990 all those extra students would fail.

    If you add more people in at the bottom grades then it’s unfair to leave those who outperformed them at those grades – so you move them up. Hence an increase in the numbers getting flying colours at the top.

    Certainly unfair on those who would have gotten a 1st by early 90’s standards – but they are probably more than capable of differentiating themselves in otherways..

    Incidentally with Google EMEA chief John Herilihy saying that Google recruit primarily UCD, UCC and Trinity. What’s new? Google are renowned for prefering Ivy League grads and those with 4th level (Masters & PhDs) in the USA..

  • Mack

    I dont think I have ever heard a more ‘elitist’ remark. ‘The distribution of intelligence’? Pillock! it is more, far more likely to do with the proper distribution of opportunity. Shame on you.

  • Mack

    @ pippakin

    I dont think I have ever heard a more ‘elitist’ remark.

    Ha ha

    So you think that everyone is equally intelligent? How about equally tall? Equally beautiful? Equally pleasant? Equally happy?

    Scientific experiments that show the distribution of psychological and physical physical attributes is uneven – following Bell curves and power laws? Pure Bunkem! The Earth is flat. Evolution is wrong. etc.

    And because we all have equal abilities, we all do equally well at exams! 700% increase in firsts at Maynooth? Nonsense – everyone got a 1st, and a last! Huzzah!

  • Mack

    it is more, far more likely to do with the proper distribution of opportunity.

    Really? How would ‘the proper distribution of opportunity’ lead to grade inflation or the dumbing down of courses?

    I can’t see how it would.

    Did the school system become more egalitarian between 1990 and today? Perhaps it did, but I didn’t notice any revolutionary improvements.

    What did happen is that the state made more money available and more places available at third level, which meant more children with lower points got to go to college. Possibly coupled with some form of grade inflation at second level with more children getting higher points.

    If you evidence of radical change in educational practices – feel free to post them up…

  • Greenflag

    When everybody gets a first nobody gets a first .

    When everybody is equally nasty on slugger then nobody is nasty 😉

    Pippkin’s point is not without merit.

  • Mack

    When everybody is equally nasty on slugger then nobody is nasty 😉

    True, she started it 😉

    Pippkin’s point is not without merit.

    She made a point buried in the insults – I don’t think it explains the process of grade inflation. I’d love an explanation of why it does if you agree with it..

  • Mack

    You attempted to make your point by denying the vast majority of children had the ability to get to university! I disagree with that, totally.

    There are obvious differences between abilities, but that is not to say that the poorest child does not have a higher IQ than the richest child. What it does mean is the poor child has far less opportunity to learn.

    In relatively recent years changes have taken place which have enabled poorer children to go on to higher education, those children have as much chance of getting high grades as anyone.

    The ‘dumbing down’ of grades is not peculiar to Ireland it is world wide.

    I have no wish to argue with you but I meant what I said. it was elitist.

  • Alias

    Actually, intelligence is inherited and intelligence is related to how successful a person will be in socio-economic terms. As successful people tend to marry people of their own socio-economic status, they tend to ‘breed’ intelligent kids. The converse is true for unsuccessful people, but a few lefties might take issue with that…

  • Reader

    pippakin: it was elitist
    In a survey, 50% of people were shocked to discover that half of the population had below average intelligence…
    The same 50% are a bit hazy about what ‘elitist’ actually means.

  • Mack

    Pippakin –

    You completely misinterpreted what I wrote!

    You attempted to make your point by denying the vast majority of children had the ability to get to university

    I did not! In fact I said the opposite. I pointed out 57% of Irish children went to university.

    Imagine an elite running club (unversities) served by feeder clubs (schools). To get into the elite club members of the feeder clubs must run a race in less than a certain time. Places in the elite running club are limited so the time required to complete the race is such that only the fastest 30% can do it in less than that time. After 3 years at the elite club they run another race and get an award if they can complete it in an even faster time.

    What happens when the number of spaces in the elite running club doubles? In order to accept more runners the acceptable time must be lowered. And the same goes for the running time for the award at the end (equivalent of grade inflation).

    Better training might enable some runners to make the original time and the fact that there are additional spaces might motivate them – but I think given the time period involved _and_ the fact we saw grade inflation at university – the simplest explanation is that the ‘entry time’ was lowered.

    By the way, I didn’t make any mention of the poorest kids or poverty. Poverty is still with us – income inequality hasn’t changed since 1990 (by some accounts it’s gotten worse). If relative wealth infers an advantage then that advantage would still hold today just as much as then.

  • Alias

    Incidentally, this exposes the farce of giving these multinationals taxpayers money in the form of grants to create jobs for the citizens of this state while the EU demands that the jobs must not be restricted by any quota to the citizens of this state, thereby creating the dismal situation whereby the citizens of this state pay taxes to this state so that this state can use their money to create jobs for the citizens of other states.

  • Alias!

    What have I stumbled across???

    I can hardly believe this. Intelligence is inherited? then how do you account for Barak Obama, or Michelle Obama, just to name two obvious people! there are I am positive millions of others, including here in Ireland.

    Builders who started from nothing, have built major companies, and some of them have not gone bust!

    Of course there must be some genetic link but it is not decisive, education and opportunity are.

  • Mack

    I apologise if I misunderstood you, you had better put me in ‘Readers’ 50%!

    I still say the more opportunity young people have the better they will do. Time was only the rich got to univsity, thank goodness that has changed, hopefully for good.

    Reader

    The people they asked must have been those educated at church institutions and convents like the Good Shepherd. It used to be that children were not educated to the best of their ability but to the level the schools (I use that word in its loosest possible sense) expected the students to achieve. In other words if you were a young orphan or abandoned child, you were expected to know your place and that place was at the bottom.

    To be accurate today the survey would have to restrict itself to those younger people leaving schools and universities in the past decade or so.

  • I must say I find a lot of the grade inflation debate tiresome, if only because it assumes that the levels of 1H given out previously were not inappropriately low and have now overshot.

    We need to do a deeper level of analysis, looking at what it took to get a 1H “back in the day” and to what extent improvements in primary and secondary educations as well as informal learning (internet etc.) leave students in terms of being prepared for third level. An examination of correspondence with DofEd might be instructive in terms of seeing what expectations were imposed on the colleges and universities over the last 20 years.

    Anyone who has been to college incidentally knows that IQ and results don’t correlate necessarily any more than IQ and income level necessarily do – depending on your course it can be the midlevel grinders who get the top honours because they best utilise the study and examination regimes over their smarter but scattier fellows. That’s what I tell myself when I look at my rather pedestrian graduation diploma, at any rate 🙂

  • Mark Dowling

    I never meant to imply they did! I feel strongly that given equal opportunity in every way, for example help with homework etc, children from poorer families have as much ability as those from the wealthier ones.

  • Reader

    pippakin: The people they asked must have been those educated at…
    For a time, people used to believe the intelligence could be expressed by a single number (IQ) and could be measured without bias. We know better now – people can have a range of abilities across different intellectual capabilities, and measurement is fraught with bias due to cultural insensitivity, coaching and family support.
    But that doesn’t mean that intelligence doesn’t exist.
    The nature-nurture debate goes on, too. Of course intelligence is inherited – in part. How could anyone possibly believe otherwise? And in part intelligence is a result of environment, upbringing and even personality. Is the ability to concentrate a facet of intelligence? How about determination?
    Whatever it is, children who have sat beside each other through 7 years of primary school, in front of the same teacher, still get different results at 11. So who will you blame – the parents?

  • DerTer

    The grade inflation figures in NI are much the same as in the Republic, and the truth is that a 1st or 2.1 is ridiculously easier to get now than 30 years ago – so, in general terms, I’m with you Mack, and I’m delighted that Batt O’Keefe (who is turning out to be a remarkably good Minister for Education) has decided to find out a bit more about what has been happening. IMO, there are two core issues in the ‘dumbing down’ controversy.
    First, there are far too many people going to university and, more importantly, far more people going to university who would actually prefer not to. They go because the labour market, or so it is claimed, wants more graduates. Jobs that used to require no more than 2 UK GCE A levels now seem to demand an upper second class honours degree. There is thus, by the way, an implied insult to the manifest competence of those recruited in the (becoming distant) past that they weren’t really up to the job, despite the evidence in terms of their actual performance over the years. It is worth adding, as an aside, that in the UK one important part of the reason for the beginnings of the huge expansion of higher education was the Tories’ need to cut down the youth unemployment figures.
    Second, I would be surprised to find any academic who would deny that they have not been put under pressure, however subtle and surreptitious, to inflate grades. Comparisons with other institutions will be quoted at exam boards, and questions asked as to why ‘we’ are not doing as well as they are. The resulting grade drift is inevitable.
    We need to go back to the drawing board on this one.

  • Reader

    I dont know why two children with the same ‘everything’ get different results. I suspect though that it does indeed have something to do with home environment. Not all are blessed with parents who care about education, and then some parents care far too much, neither is the right way to raise or teach a child.

    Der Ter

    I would not do that until the rest of the world stops their ‘dumbing down’. It would place our students at a disadvantage.

  • Mack

    Mark – For the record I didn’t mention IQ

    Intelligence != IQ

    (does not equal)

    and a minimum level of intelligence is a neccessary but not a sufficient condition for attaining a degree. The correlation between grades, income and inteligence may not be perfect – but it is there.

  • Pete Baker

    Update RTÉ reports that “The Minister for Education has said he is satisfied that grade inflation is not a problem at Leaving Certificate level and that proper controls are in place.”

    But the iol report notes that “A new university grades watchdog is being set up after US multinationals complained about the standard of Irish graduates”.

    Mr O’Keeffe said there were a number of conflicting arguments as to why top university and third-level grades had increased over the past 10 years in Ireland, and internationally.

    These included a deliberate decision to align Irish standards with the UK and elsewhere, that students were better prepared and motivated or simply that grade increases were a result of a drop in standards.

    The minister refused to say what reasons he believed were behind the trend and would only insist it was a complex issue.

  • Mack

    DerTer –

    I broadly agree – competition between colleges for students leads to grade inflation as no course wants to get a reputation for not giving out 1sts and failing lots of students.

    Where I’d disagree is in that I don’t think there are too many going to university.

    A degree is more than a badge of intelligence – undergraduates students pick up a lot of transferable skills – they learn how to learn, to research ideas, to work in teams, how to think analytically and critically for themselves & much more. Importantly they have demonstrated that they can pick up and master knowledge at some level within a domain.

    These skills and a cert that demonstrate that are important in a flexible and rapidly changing work place. When technology or economic events make certain jobs redundant employees need to be able to demonstrate to prospective employers that they can retrain.

    The people we’re letting down in this system or the ones at the other end of the scale – the people Google and Intel want to hire, but are frustrated with the false positives caused by grade inflation. I.e. They’re seeing people with 2.1’s in comp sci (or perhaps even 1sts) who have perhaps avoided the challenging practical modules and lack real understanding of programming, algorthims, data structures, networks etc (but might be able to write you a good essay on the history of operating systems)..

    It might be an idea to investigate other formal methods under which high flyers could distinguish themselves.

  • Mack

    Pete –

    Also worth pointing out that the numbers studying Comp Sci and Electronic Engineering collapsed in the south in the wake of the dot.bomb bust.

    The points required to study those subjects also nosed dived. The average quality of student in that area has fallen significantly (less students, lower leaving cert scores) as those with high leaving cert points chose other courses which had better career prospects (or so it seemed) at the time (law, architecture, finance, accounting etc – wonder how that will work out?)

  • What is missing in this thread, so far, is the recognition that the whole system has changed fundamentally over the last three decades.

    Once upon a time, the assumption was that the raw meat in the classroom, and their “standards” remained constant, year on year, cohort by cohort. Therefore the simplest way of sheeping-and-goating was to top-slice: the “best” 10% (or whatever number), based on subjective appraisal, were awarded the top grade. And so on, salami-slicing down the perceived order. This was “normative” assessment, evaluation based on norms.

    This was not sufficiently scientific or “rigorous” for the bureaucrats, who like “tick the box” stuff. The Thatcherites, for example, were keen on multiple-choice examinations for just that reason.

    So, whole tomes of regulations continue to be evolved, laying out the new rules for assessment on a “criteria” basis.

    So far, so good.

    However, when one has such explicit rules, inevitably it is teaching-to-task. This is what the exam expects. This is what you, the student, must deliver. This is what you need to show to deliver that “A” grade. Of course there is “grade-inflation” as teacher and taught get wise to the criteria. To restore the balance, from time to time, the criteria are modified to keep everyone on the hop. Then the process starts all over again, which is why the main beneficiaries are those organising courses for teachers, teaching how to beat the rules, and matching the new criteria.

    It greatly helps when even Ministers specify that “60%/70%/80%” of candidates must attain the “average”. Ponder that one for “grade inflation”.

    Imagination? As Kingsley Amis said, “Thinking? — we leave that to our supervisors”.

    But, hey! I said all this previously.

  • Mack

    Malcolm –

    Undoubtedly that had a big influence. My class spent P6 and P7 practising 11+ exams rather than learning anything interesting. Although I never experienced that exam-focused teaching or learning at university level..

    The pass marks in most exams at college exams, in my expereience anyway, were weighted such that the top x% get a 1st, followed by the next y% on a 2:1 etc. (X and Y to be used in course marketing literature). This can be done by reweighting marks given to questions and assignments to ensure the proper percentage get over 70%, by providing other mechanisms for extra credit, or moving the boundaries downwards (more common at A-Level than at college) etc..

  • bigchiefally

    Pipakin – you really dispute that intelligence isnt at least somewhat inherited?

    Why should intelligence be different from just about every other human trait?

  • bigchiefally

    No! I hope I said that intelligence is not enough by itself. It needs a nurturing environment to grow.

    Of course I believe that intelligence is inherited but from whom? Two people of average or slightly below average intelligence may well have genius in their extended families.

    The crucial thing is upbringing and opportunity.

  • DerTer

    Mack
    I’m a bit late getting back to you, but this is a complicated issue. I take your point about:
    “A degree is more than a badge of intelligence – undergraduates students pick up a lot of transferable skills – they learn how to learn, to research ideas, to work in teams, how to think analytically and critically for themselves & much more. Importantly they have demonstrated that they can pick up and master knowledge at some level within a domain. ”
    However, though that might have been a fair generalisation 20 or 30 years ago, sadly a large number of students are no longer learning how to be analytical and critical – and of course some people are naturally better at this than others (without getting into dispute with some of the recent posts about intelligence, etc!). What these students are learning is how to get by: how to write essays that contribute marks towards their final degree result by lifting chunks of stuff off the web, and how to pass exams by question-spotting without ever having done any independent reading or thinking.
    I know very well that some people have always done this, but they are now manifestly in the majority. (I suspect, by the way, that the time has come to do away with continuous assessment and return to a purely exam-based regime.)
    There is of course a substantial minority who do gain the benefits and develop the characteristics you describe, and a university education is plainly of value to them, and is valued by them. The people I am talking about value it only as a means to a piece of paper which they feel obliged to obtain because the labour market seems to demand it – and I don’t criticise them for that. But they don’t enjoy the university experience, they want to get it over and done with a quickly as possible and, crucially, they don’t actually need to waste their time in this way because the jobs that most of them will end up doing – and doing very well, and being paid well for doing – don’t require a university education, as experience (as I suggested earlier) has demonstrated down through the years. I ask again, why does a job that used to require two A levels as a qualification now require an upper second?
    When you add to all this the pressures already discussed leading to grade inflation, it seems to me that apart from the ultra-elite institutions that discriminate determinedly against the less academically able, the system is in a mess. In particular it is utterly wasteful of scarce intellectual resources.