University of Limerick (UL) is among the top three universities in Europe for career preparation through internships and for staff and student gender balance, according to the inaugural Times Higher Education (THE) Europe Teaching Rankings published this week.
UL ranks 76-100 in the overall ranking, making it one of just three Irish universities included in the top 100 for teaching excellence in Europe.
It is first in Ireland and received the third highest score of more than 240 universities across Europe for its environment, which measures gender balance and is a THE ranking to measure whether universities provide a diverse and inclusive learning environment for students.
UL also performed well in terms of preparing students for careers, ranking third in Europe on the engagement survey metric measuring universities’ effectiveness in helping students to secure valuable internships.
UL in top three in Europe for career preparation
UL’s director of the Cooperative Education and Careers Division, Patrice Twomey, explains that 2,000 UL students across 56 degree programmes undertake a six- to eight-month placement each year “as a formal, academically-accredited compulsory element of their degree programme”. About a fifth of these placements are with an international company.
All students, regardless of their discipline, academic performance or skills profile, are eligible for the programme, she adds.
“That is quite unusual,” Ms Twomey says. “You would have a lot of universities maybe cherry-picking by course or by high-performing students, but this is a very inclusive programme.”
She adds that research shows that students who have “had to flip between the world of classroom and the world of work” benefit from what is known as “career crystallisation – they have much more career clarity when they come back [from their placement] and [therefore] they are much easier to teach”.
“The opportunity to dip your toe into the world of work in that way is so confidence-building, so skills-building; and it helps them immensely in seeing the relevance of what they’re studying – whatever that may be,” she says.
But Ms Twomey adds that the programme is about much more than helping students to secure their first position after graduation.
“We would really see it as an opportunity for them to develop knowledge and understanding that would make it more likely for them to be successful in their future career, as opposed to their first job,” she says.
UL first in Ireland for gender equality
Commenting on the university’s top three ranking in the area of gender equality, Head of Equality & Diversity, Marie Connolly, said that individual departments in UL have worked hard to attract under-represented groups to their courses using outreach programmes. Departments also run focus groups with students to gather feedback on their experience in the classroom, on unconscious bias from staff or peers, and on how learning strategies could better cater to different types of students.
Ms Connolly says that the Athena SWAN gender equality accreditation has been a useful benchmark for the university’s work in this area and has engaged “our academic staff to think about how inclusive their teaching is”.
Overall, University of Oxford topped the new Times Higher Education pilot ranking of European universities that focuses on institutions’ teaching and learning environments, followed by University of Cambridge.