Twenty-one students taking the four-year BSc. degree in Audiology at AIT (Athlone Institute of Technology) in Ireland, reached a High Court settlement to complete three remaining years of the degree course, which was suddenly dropped last June after concluding its first year (2012-13).
According to the Irish Times, this settlement is a once-off, hinting that AIT may drop the course in 2016 after these students graduate. External accreditation is not yet secured, but a reinstated course is easier to accredit than none.
This week’s settlement sees the HSE (Health Service Executive) providing 12 placements for the students in their third year of study, with the HEA (Higher Education Authority) funding the course and AIT accrediting the course itself.
With several AIT students securing places in a second year of audiology at the University of Southampton, the impact of the AIT course accreditation on their future career, is pivotal to their deliberations on which course to take.
As The Times notes:
Counsel said the offer [to retain the AIT course] was dependent on [it] being approved by a Professor of Audiology as being of a standard comparable to BSc’s courses in audiology offered internationally.
Why Do Audiology Courses Need Accreditation?
Qualified audiologists must set educational standards for university training courses, with skilled audiologists peer-reviewing course content and student output when new audiology courses are being established and evaluated, according to the US-based website, Hearing Health And Technology Matters.
Without independent, professional accreditation, graduates with audiology degrees do not know how ‘good’ their qualification is. Accredited degrees protect students by endorsing the value of their evaluation, while protecting audiology clients in terms of the competency and care they may receive.
Workplace Skills For Graduate Audiologists
Audiology graduates entering workplaces need formal, validated entry-level competence in newborn tests and hearing-aid fittings, and to prove their ability to work independently with seniors. Educational audiologists similarly need competence to kit classrooms for their client students and educators.
Accreditation (which tends to be voluntary) prepares audiology students for workplaces by providing an external review of quality assurance levels at teaching universities and HE entities. Budget and lecturer workload often are cited as hurdles to this accreditation, but it is vital for employee validation.
Solution From The US: ACAE’s Web-Based Accreditation Process
In the US, an entity named the Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education (ACAE) operates a web-based, collaborative accreditation process with educational courses to prioritise positive student learning outcomes.
ACAE’s online system shares best practices in audiology education by identifying and collating data to assess student performance, based on learning outcomes and “partnering with, [not] policing, academic programs”.
Extending Accreditation To Broader Practice
During 2012, ACAE applied to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) in the US, to use this accreditation system with clinics, hospitals and audiology practices for audiologists to gain autonomy within their profession.
Knowing of this solution, one asks why ACAE cannot accredit the BSc. course in audiology at Athlone Institute of Technology, particularly when the BAA recently said it will no longer accredit audiology courses outside the UK.
Standards-Setting With The QQI
The answer is that ACAE, in setting educational standards in the US, has the role that QQI (Quality and Qualifications Ireland) has with Ireland’s higher education entities, which means the AIT course is accredited in the CHEA context, and validated as the subject of an Order in Council with QQI.
Through QQI, the AIT degree sits on Ireland’s National Framework of Qualifications and links through that to the related European Framework.
At this stage, extra accreditation in Ireland of the course by a professional body recognised in law is not available in respect of audiology, but a body may emerge in future. The IDK team is reliably informed that no action of AIT’s or the students can alter that position in the immediate future.
Ireland has a chance to establish a world-class industry in audiology – and internationally-recognised accreditation will enable this to happen.
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