Leanna Byrne | Editor
A group of Audiology students from Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) have acquired over 1,200 signatures in their petition to hold the Athlone IT, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and the Health Service Executive (HSE) accountable for the cancellation of their course due to accreditation and placement issues. The students are asking the named bodies to provide financial assistance following their ‘lost’ year studying at AIT and to finance their continued studies in Ireland or in the UK.
In 2012, AIT included the proposed BSc programme in Audiology in their CAO list without receiving accreditation or funding from the HEA. It is normal practice that new courses leading to a professional accreditation must operate for a period while accreditation is being established, but AIT encountered difficulties in obtaining accreditation from the British Academy for Audiology (BAA).
The HEA contacted AIT in early 2012 emphasising the importance of engaging with the HSE, particularly with respect to clinical placements before commencing the course. In the circumstances as of July 2012, the HEA was not satisfied that adequate arrangements had been made for the course which also did not accord with national policy in respect of the training of audiologists. AIT were informed by letter on 1 August 2012 that they should not proceed with the course and that the HEA would not be in a position to fund it.
AIT proceeded with the course in September 2012, with an intake of 21 students. The HEA became aware of this fact in early October 2012 and again wrote to the Institute stating that the course should be suspended and the students provided with alternative options.
According to the Malcom Byrne, Head of Communications for the HEA, when the BAA suspended their accreditation process, the HEA explored with the BAA if the accreditation process could be rearranged for the cohort of students then registered.
“The HEA’s main concern was for the students and to explore if any arrangements could be made to allow them to proceed with the course,” said Byrne. “This, however, did not prove possible and accordingly, the HEA wrote to AIT stating that given the circumstances and to avoid the continuance of uncertainty for the students, the BSc in Audiology should proceed no further.”
Despite this, Audiology student Orlaith McCaffrey claims that they were extremely surprised to find out their course was being cancelled. The 21 students were called to a meeting on the 6th of June having completed their first year exams to be informed that the course could not continue. According to AIT, the HSE verbally stated that a level 9 MSc was now going to be the minimum entry level requirement into the profession in addition to the issues obtaining accreditation.
AIT subsequently informed the students that it would provide a BSc in Health Science with Audiological Sciences and those students who have successfully completed Year 1 of the BSc in Audiology may transfer, should they choose, to Year 2 of this new degree. The Institute further indicated that they were available to discuss with any student the option of joining the AIT BSc in Health Science or any other cognate programme in AIT and the Institute would continue to assist those students who have applied to transfer to other Higher Education Institutes.
Some members of the class have reapplied to courses through CAO, while others will be continuing their audiology studies in the UK.
“The majority of us want to continue in our Audiology studies,” explained Orlaith. “Which means moving out of Ireland to the UK, which will not be cheap. So basically we want the bodies and institution to take responsibility for their part in this farce and give students compensation in order for us to continue in whatever area we now wish to study.”
Speaking to The University Times, the Union of Students in Ireland President, Joe O’Connor felt that it was “an incredible decision to run a course without any guarantee of funding or placement”. O’Connor has also made sure that the full details of the situation has been made available to the governing bodies and the AIT’s Students’ Union will be working to accommodate the audiology students.