Grade inflation becomes problem for Irish students


It should be an employer’s dream scenario: many applicants for the job and all of them have top marks in their final degrees. However these days it has become more of a nightmare. With so many Irish students having excellent grade certificates, there have been allegations of grade inflation in the Emerald Isle.

Minister for Education Batt O’ Keefe has already reacted to the problem, with two major investigations currently ongoing. Results are expected over the summer months. However, according to the Sunday Tribune, the first report was criticised because experts felt that it failed to examine whether it has become easier for third-level students to pass their degrees over the past 10 years.

Universities under Pressure

The website publishes research papers on the topic. According to experts, the reason for high grades is that on the one hand, universities are under pressure to show that their students are living up to the expectations. On the other, the quality assurance mechanisms are simply insufficient.

Some companies have yet to hear of the problem. In the Liberties, most are simply too small to hire on an international basis, and, according to a Guinness representative, they have not encountered this problem yet.

The universities themselves do little to reassure the worried companies. When it was discovered that the Cork Institute of Technology upgraded about 100 students that had originally failed their tests, the Institute insisted that they had acted correctly. Accusations of a “no-fail”-policy were rejected, even though after the upgrading no student failed the module.

Are Control Mechanisms the Solution?

The full magnitude of the problem was shown when the Irish Times quoted an unpublished study which stated that the number of first-class honour degrees increased by 174 per cent in UCC, by 126 per cent in Trinity College Dublin, by 115 per cent in NUI Galway and in the University of Limerick by 107 per cent.

There are two solutions to the problem. The first concerns the universities. It is up to them now to ensure that grade inflation is halted and reversed. This could be achieved by strict control mechanisms. It is also the government’s responsibility to deal with this problem. The results of the investigations might show indicators of how to stop the inflation.

The alternative would result in a devaluation of grades in general. In the media business it is already common to hire people for the quality of the work they have done or the variety of the material they published. “We pay almost no attention to the grades,” says John Burns from the Sunday Times. “For us, the portfolio and the reactions during an interview process are more important.”

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