This semester, I have been studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland through the Boston University Dublin Management Internship program. Unlike many of the other BU abroad programs, we directly enroll in a host institution rather than taking classes at a Boston University student center. This means we are taking the actual Irish classes along with Irish students as they work towards their degrees. This interaction and firsthand experience has allowed me to gain an interesting perspective on differing educational systems. Here at the University College Dublin Quinn School of Management, the curriculum, course requirements, and credit hours are very different for equivalent degrees in the United States. There are a number of reasons that I think the educational environment is different here. First, students do not pay for their school tuition, the government does. As much as it is elitist to say, I think this may contribute to student buy-in as far as the educational process goes. Since they have no financial responsibility, as compared to US students, students may not take classes as seriously as they might otherwise if there was a financial stake in their coursework.
Second, many Irish students have a three year program to earn their Bachelor's Degree as compared to the American four year system. When looking at the curriculums, the Irish spend their entire university career in the college of their major taking courses that relate directly to that major. There are not the same sorts of "general education" or "elective" course requirements as we have at Boston University. It seems that by reducing the course load of outside classes, Irish curriculums are able to graduate students a year faster than most American colleges. I wonder whether this has an effect on the work place and hirability. One might question maturity and experience given students are hired into firms for full time work at the age of twenty-one rather than our traditional twenty-two.
Finally, the Irish curriculum and teaching style that we are experiencing is very different from that which we are used to at Boston University. Classes are almost exclusively lecture style with little to no classroom participation and minimal feedback. The instructor will generally talk about notes they have prepared in a PowerPoint presentation or an Adobe PDF that then displays on a projector. Classes tend to be about three hours long with a break in the middle and meet once a week. In contrast, the longest class I had experienced prior to UCD was two hours, met twice a week, and was VERY interactive. Even our large lecture style courses tended to interact either by cold-call, interactive clickers, or other real-time feedback.
I have not yet formed my opinion about what system is "better" since I have not really gone out and experienced what it is like to work alongside these students. In a little over a week, I will be starting an internship in downtown Dublin where, among other goals, I hope to experience firsthand what it is to work in Ireland. I personally prefer the BU system and curriculum because it works better for me, or perhaps because I have grown up with it, so to speak.
What do you think? Does the Irish system of education sound better to you? Is it more fun? If you were a hiring manager, who would you rather hire? Post a comment or drop a line to james.m.connors [dot] gmail [dot] com and let the community know what you think.