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Lecturers and PhDs

Figures published recently in the Irish Times have revealed that UCD has the lowest percentage of lecturers with PhDs out of all the major universities in the Republic of Ireland.

The statistics reveal that whilst 92% of the full time academic staff at NUI Maynooth hold a PhD, only 72% of all academic staff at UCD have the same qualification. Trinity College Dublin is cited as having 84% of fulltime academic staff with PhDs, whilst DCU is close behind with 77%.

Currently in Ireland there are no specific requirements which must be fulfilled in order for an individual to become a lecturer at a third level institution. However, within The National Strategy for Higher Education, which is concerned with the establishment of new Technological Universities, criteria for becoming a lecturer will be introduced in these new institutions. The Strategy calls for a minimum requirement of 45% of academic staff at the institution to hold a PhD qualification, and 90% to hold a masters degree.

Eugene O’Loughlin, computer lecturer at The National College of Ireland, has commented on his blog that a PhD is not, in his opinion, a necessary requirement for teaching at an undergraduate level. However, he notes that if Ireland wishes to improve its education sector more students need to be educated to a PhD level. Furthermore, despite insisting that a PhD does not necessarily make you a good teacher, Mr O’Loughlin concludes that to continue improving Ireland’s educational sector the percentage of academic staff holding a PhD will have to increase “by a lot.”

Currently, according to QS World Rankings, UCD is the 134th best university in the world. 40% of the data used to compile the rankings is based on an institution’s academic reputation, calculated using a survey sent to academics at universities across the world. On this basis, statistics regarding the qualifications of academic staff may impact the global standing of the UCD.

The issue of whether it should be compulsory for academics to hold a PhD was addressed in an Australian article early last year. The author articulated the idea that in the current global economic climate, students were looking for practical and career focused third level education.  Arguably, by demanding that lecturers have PhDs you compromise their ability to gain firsthand experience within their field. This in turn may result in an academic approach to the subject, which is too removed from the realities of a career in the area.

Five students were interviewed regarding the significance they place on the UCD’s low level of PhD holding lecturers, and how they feel this affects the university as a whole. Four of them were not concerned by the statistic, and did not feel that the gap in qualifications of the academic staff at UCD, compared to other intuitions, had negatively impacted their degree. However, 1st year Arts student Nicholas O’Dwyer felt that in the light of UCD’s global standing, the university must ensure that it is making advances in academic standards in line with other institutions nationally and internationally.

Three students believed that there should be a national minimum standard for those teaching at third level institutions. Opinions also varied regarding the input students should have into decisions about their academic staff. Although Law student Mulberry Boulden suggested that, realistically, student participation in the appointment of academic staff was not feasible, Engineering student Jack O’Connor felt that in more technically specific subject areas it may be beneficial for students to have a say.

Overall, all of the students questioned agreed that the standard of teaching at UCD was high and that they were satisfied with their academic experience. Although the survey taken cannot be said to be representative of the entire student body, the results still raise the question of whether significance should be given to statistics such as these, particularly in light of the recent rise of UCD as leaving cert students’ first preference on CAO forms.

Frances Ivens

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