A disappointing story on the Irish national framework of qualifications in today’s Sunday Tribune (a ‘serious’ newspaper), with the Further Education Training and Awards Council (FETAC) coming in for some criticism. Disclosure: I am a former member of the Council of HETAC, FETAC’s sister body.

The Sunday Tribune has discovered that one state awards body, FETAC, has approved courses in bar skills, learning to be a security guard and becoming a retail sales assistant, which are ranked at Level 4, the same level as an ordinary level Leaving Certificate.

Want higher education? Just learn how to make a sandwich

Round of applause for the excellent journalism at the Tribune – in particular for their ‘discovery’ (given that FETAC publishes information on its website and institutions advertise courses heavily, it must have been hard work). Remind me what the difference between the Trib and a tabloid is?

The story is based on arguments made by the “Network for Irish Educational Standards” (website), which is a number of lecturers at IT Tralee. While I do think that issues of quality and standards in higher education are worth debating, taking the word of a campaigning ‘network’ (which itself is best summarised by its domain name stopgradeinflation.ie) and adding trashy journalism to it falls short of the mark. The Network may have a point but they have a particular message to put and, I think, the fault lies with the newspaper rather than with their spokesperson for how they used the statements.

If there is actual evidence (as distinct from sneering about sandwiches and lawnmowing) that FETAC are doing something wrong, I’d like to see it. Until then, though, this seems nothing more than an Irish version of the “Mickey Mouse degrees” fuss in the UK (which involved a lot of unresearched, unfair criticism of media studies in particular). I’m sure if we went back 200 years, the very prospect of universities devaluing their role as purveyors of classical knowledge through teaching science would raise just as much alarm…

Your thoughts?