Like the Leaving Cert, the announcement of university rankings leads to the same conversations year after year. The typical conversation goes like this: the rankings are meaningless because they use flawed methodologies but we still need to be worried about the signal a decline in rankings sends to the international community. The conversation then takes a sideways turn to focus on the reduction in state funding for higher education, ending finally with the conclusion that the higher education sector is in a quality “crisis”.
While all of these conversations are being had, students are telling us that they are broadly satisfied with the quality of the education they receive while over 86% of employers express satisfaction with our graduates.
So what is the truth? Having spent may years teaching in the broad area of STEM, and often having to juggle timetables, group sizes and equipment usage, my conclusion is that the main effect of the rise in student numbers coupled with a reduction in state funding is to dilute the student experience, not to make it objectively ‘worse’.
Furthermore, it seems that a dilution of the experience does not matter too much, at least not to employers.