Universities are trialling a new certificate giving a detailed breakdown of grades to graduates, which could eventually replace traditional degree classifications.
Students studying Biology, English, Accounting and Creative Art at eighteen universities across the UK are trialling the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR). Upon graduation, they will receive a report detailing their results in all modules, as well as a summary of other activities undertaken at university.
Currently almost two thirds of graduates achieve a first class or upper second class (2:1) degree, leading to complaints that it is difficult to distinguish between them. In 2008, for example, 95.8% of Oxford History finalists attained a 2:1 or a first class degree.
Oxford University is already taking its own steps towards giving graduates more information, working to provide full transcripts for those who started their courses from 2008. A spokesperson said that the university “will consider future developments carefully, in the light of the results of the pilot study.”
OUSU’s VP for Access and Academic Affairs, Jonny Medland, said that HEARs should only be used if they benefit students. “Any decision about further expanding Higher Education Achievement Reports will have to come after we see how trialling them has worked. Like any other University, Oxford should always be working to introduce fairer methods of assessment and to improve the student experience.”
The trial was prompted by the results of a wide-ranging investigation into the degree classification system by Professor Robert Burgess, Vice-Chancellor of Leicester University. His report’s recommendations were largely against a radical replacement system for the current honours degree classification, which is well-respected worldwide. However, it did call for a system which gave employers more information about graduates.
Aaron Porter, Vice President (Higher Education)of the NUS, welcomed the trial. “It is clear that the current degree classification system is no longer fit for purpose; students deserve a more detailed acknowledgment of their overall achievement from their time in higher education.”
Nehaal Bajwa, a Balliol PPE finalist, was concerned that a HEAR would cause too much focus on academic work. “There won’t be that 10% leeway between getting a 2:1 and a 2:2 as every percentage point will count for more.”
However, some students have questioned whether HEARs will help employers choose the right candidate. There are concerns that instead of making it easier for employers to judge candidates, HEARs will make the drawn-out recruitment process even less efficient. Currently many employers do not consider applications of graduates with a 2:2 or below.
Tom Nicholson, a finalist at Magdalen, said, “This no doubt delights those who are keen to see ex-poly hairdressing students become corporate lawyers, as it obfuscates traditional (and, dare I say, pretty indicative) associations between top grades at top universities and important career-related attributes, such as intelligence. In practice employers will still look for ways to come to snap judgements within whatever system one introduces – and they’ll still hire the same candidates.”