Institute was told not to go ahead with degree

Athlone Institute of Technology was told a year ago not to go ahead with the country’s first audiology degree, which was cancelled this week, leaving 21 students with an uncertain future.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) told AIT on Aug 1, 2012, not to proceed with the BSc in audiology. It said it would not fund the course because it did not accord with national policy on training of audiologists, and the college was told earlier last year to engage with the HSE about clinical placements for students before classes started.

AIT said on Wednesday that it was told just this week by the HEA, which provides State funding for approved courses, not to proceed with the second year of the course.

This followed confirmation that the British Academy of Audiology would not be giving it the accreditation needed for student to get work placements in year three of the four-year degree.

The HEA said yesterday that AIT went ahead with the course last September with no funding approval and directly against its instructions.

“The HEA became aware of this fact in early Oct 2012 and again wrote to the institute stating that the course should be suspended and the students provided with alternative options,” it said.

Colleges have autonomy to decide what courses they offer but the HEA will not provide funding if a course is not consistent with national policy. A 2011 HSE report urgently recommended audiology qualifications be made available in Ireland, but the location and award levels were to be decided at national level.

“The HEA view with great concern the fact that AIT ran a course in circumstances where there was a high level of uncertainty surrounding both accreditation and clinical placements. Consideration is being given to what further action is appropriate to reflect the seriousness of the situation and to avoid any recurrence,” the HEA said.

AIT said it reviewed applications for the course on foot of the HEA’s ‘advice’ of Aug 2012 and decided it would be unacceptable to cancel it at that late stage. It said it was the first choice of 55 CAO applicants, some had applied for no other course, and the deadline for changing course lists had passed.

“The institute has kept the students informed of developments regarding the degree at all stages and our priority is to support them as they make their choices regarding their future college options,” a spokesperson said.

Students say they might have thought longer about accepting the course if they knew the HEA had not approved it. Some have spent €6,000-€9,000 on accommodation, fees, transport, and other costs.

Orlaith McCaffrey is one of six who now have offers of a place in second year of University of Southampton’s audiology degree, but she must wait a month for loan approval to cover fees.

“The communication on all this has been awful, we’re just stuck in the middle. We want a proper qualification after getting a love for the profession in the last year,” she said.

AIT has offered places in second year of a new related science degree, but this will not qualify them as audiologists. The college is asking that any of them accepted into first year at other Irish colleges be deemed first-time students and eligible for free tuition.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said the 21 students have been let down appallingly. At least €100,000 of public money was spent on tuition and student supports, with typical institute of technology degrees costing taxpayers €3,800 a head, and extra costs of grants and college fees for eligible students.

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