-Employment opportunities threatened by low quality education system
-Google looks to those educated abroad to fill vacancies
Criticisms of Irish third level standards, treat accumulating from major companies in the engineering, electronics and science world, are beginning to move from shaming our education system and its graduates to genuinely threatening their futures.
Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman at Google, has called for an ease on visa restrictions so that foreign workers can enter the country to fill vacancies in the company.
Rather than being an effort to simply reduce company costs by offering foreign workers lower wages, this move comes as part of a growing concern in the industry that Irish third level institutions are not producing graduates of a high enough quality.
John Blake, head of the Microelectronic Industry Design Association, has said that “the situation is that the good students coming out are very good, it’s just that there are not enough of them.”
John Power, the director general of Engineers Ireland, has espoused his opinion that in the years before the recession there was a surge of student interest in financial, service and legal courses.
Mathematics and science based degrees suffered as a result, leading to a drop in the CAO points required to enter these courses. This meant that such courses became populated by those on the lower end of the Leaving Cert result spectrum.
In light of this harsh diagnosis, some UCD students were asked their opinion.
“To say that Engineering was where the less intelligent people went during the boom doesn’t make much sense to me,” says one 3rd Year. “I had two friends who graduated from Engineering last year and they were some of the smartest people I know.”
“I suppose maybe people did prefer Commerce and Finance before the recession,” commented 2nd Year Tom Burton, “but its hardly fair to say that only the idiots were in Engineering.”
However, Dr. Adam Winstanley, head of the computer science department in NUI Maynooth, has described a situation in which “you have people barely getting through and struggling and then you have more resources used getting people through exams.”
Whatever the reasons behind it, the fact that there has been such growing criticisms of Irish graduate quality by those in the engineering, electronics and science industries has the potential to drastically affect both the legitimacy of our education system and the prospects for the students currently going through it.
A high standard of education in our country is an essential factor in persuading multi-national companies to set up shop here. Mary McCarthy, a woman who was employed by Cadbury when the company arrived in Ireland in the 1970s, has said that “the people in Cadbury’s were just amazed at how well educated we all were. It was definitely the reason they stayed in Ireland.”
At the present time, Google is only asking for an ease in visa restrictions so that foreign graduates can be employed here in Ireland. Yet it is not inconceivable that if this trend continues, Google and other multi-nationals may consider packing it in and heading overseas.
Furthermore, this issue is a powerful indicator that the Irish education system may be in need of some serious reform. However, a senior figure in the electronics industry has said that the universities are not “hugely cooperative” in attempts to improve graduate performance.
He stated that universities prefer to focus on research rather than undergraduate training, as this affords them greater government and EU funding.
Aside from the reforms that may have to be implemented by the education system at large as a result of this problem, there is an important lesson that current undergraduates may take from this issue.
The big players in the engineering, electronics and science industries do not see our degrees as sufficient curriculum vitaes. Our education is being painted with an increasingly dark brush, so to stand out we will have find other ways to excel. It seems that simply, or barely, graduating is not enough.