Education

TD raises concerns about Dundalk IT course issue impacting students

Education

David Lynch

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David Lynch

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TD raises concerns about Dundalk IT course issue impacting students

What has been described as "serious concerns" about the future of students on a social care course at DkIT have been raised by Louth TD Ruairí Ó Murchú.

Deputy Ó Murchú says that around 42 students, who have just completed third year of the college’s Social Care course, logged onto the examination results system at DkIT last Tuesday to find their results for the year had been ‘deferred’.

The Sinn Fein TD said that It is understood the issue centres around placement hours, which are a course requirement set down by the social care sector’s oversight body, CORU.

He added that because of Covid-19, the students were unable to complete their entire placement hours in April and May and the college offered alternative assessment methods.

Students speaking to Deputy Ó Murchú said they believed they would be graded and moved into their fourth and final Level 8 degree year in September, but they were, according to Deputy Ó Murchú, “stunned” to see their grade had been deferred.

In addition, the local TD says that students also told him they were told that because of a college error in their second year, a further 100 hours of placement would have to completed in 2021, on top of the hours deferred because of Covid-19.

The Sinn Féin TD said he has written to the Ministers for Health and Education after receiving a number of representations to his office about how the matter unfolded this week and he has also written to DkIT president, Dr Michael Mulvey.

“A number of students have contacted my office about this issue and are deeply upset and worried about what has happened.

 “The students who wish to go for a Level 8 degree are very worried about how they are going to complete this huge chunk of placement hours, on top of completing their final year assignments and thesis.” 

He continued: “What is particularly concerning is that the students believed that the alternative assessments that they completed during lockdown were in lieu of the placement hours for 2020, but now it seems they weren’t.

“On top of that is the startling news that a further 100 hours were not completed in second year, again, without the students’ knowledge.”

Deputy Ó Murchú added: “I have written to the ministers with responsibility in the education and social care areas, asking them to intervene in this situation so that there is a satisfactory outcome for the students.

“I have also contacted Dr Mulvey to ask him to investigate what has gone on here and see if solutions can be found.”

Responding, DkIT said:

Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) like all Higher Institutes of Institutes (HEI) across Ireland, made firm commitments during the COVID-19 pandemic to preserve the academic integrity of all degree programmes and to ensure that students would not face any academic disadvantage as result of unprecedented yet unavoidable changes to academic programmes as result of nationwide restrictions. 

 

In almost all cases, this was successfully achieved thanks to the swift action of academic staff within the institute, under extremely challenging circumstances, to develop appropriate forms of alternative assessments that would enable students to complete the required assessments that determine whether they can progress to the next stage of study or complete their academic careers at DkIT. 

 

However, due to strict regulatory requirements on a small number of DkIT programmes, it became evident that the development of an alternative assessment was not always a viable option due to the stringent criteria and standards of proficiencies laid down by regulatory bodies that must be met in order to secure recognition and approval of the final qualification. 

 

In relation to the BA (Hons) in Social Care at DkIT, academic teams have applied for recognition by CORU, the regulatory body for Health & Social Care Professionals in Ireland. The programme team has continually updated the programme with the aim of meeting the criteria and standards of proficiency that are required by the profession. In line with this, students on this programme are required to complete a minimum of 800 supervised hours of work-placement.

 

Due to the COVID-19 health emergency, all work placements scheduled to take place in Semester Two had to be halted in March in line with national guidelines to ensure the health and safety of all students; a situation that was common among all Institutes of Technology nationwide.

 

In response to the crisis, social care education providers across Ireland engaged in extensive consultation with their regulator to understand the implications for assessment in light of COVID-10 and it was determined that all existing criteria and standards of proficiency would not be amended and as such there would be no derogation in the 800 hours of work placement requirement.

 

DkIT investigated a variety of ways that it could support students to achieve the placement hours requirement before the end of semester 2, such as recognition of paid employment and volunteering hours. However in reviewing the criteria required for social care education, it became clear that DkIT would not have agreements, systems of approval, or have academic supervision during these periods of paid employment or volunteering, and therefore would not meet the requirements of the profession. The institute also investigated the opportunity of rescheduling placements over the summer period in advance of the new academic term. 

 

After a period of extensive investigation, a decision was made in the interest and fairness of all DkIT students on the programme that the best solution would be defer their assessment and to re-schedule the work placement hours as part of the next academic year (provisionally set for May 2021). Direct consideration was given to third year students on this programme to ensure that new arrangements would allow them to complete their fourth year of study as planned and also make up the required work placement hours so that can attain their final award in time for graduation autumn 2021 under the normal time frame.

 

Contrary to what has been reported by some sources over recent days, the BA (Hons) in Social Care is a four-year degree programme and is not designed as a Level 7 programme. Under normal circumstances students who do not wish to complete their final year of study may apply to receive a Level 7 exit award upon completing their third year. 

 

As an accredited higher education provider, DkIT continues to focus on meeting the criteria necessary for professional registration. With this consideration in mind, every effort has been made to ensure that in continuing with their studies, all students will have the opportunity to graduate with their Level 8 degree as planned in Autumn 2021. 

 

We understand that this is an extremely difficult situation for students and would like to pay tribute to students for their continued adaptability, cooperation and resilience over a period of extraordinary disruption and change. Affected students have been informed at regular intervals since March as new information became available during the sector-wide consultation process. An virtual meeting was held with third year students on Friday 12th June to outline the decision made and detailed email communication was subsequently issued to them. 

 

Students are encouraged to contact their School office to arrange a meeting to discuss individual concerns around the agreed plans for next year. Students may also follow the standard complaints procedure if they wish to escalate their concerns for review by academic administration.