A degree of scandal and shame 1

April 28, 2006

Your headline "Students waved through final lap" (April 14) is an apposite summary of the scandalous proposals voted through by Keele University's senate in its misguided response to action short of a strike.

"Waving through" is what might as well happen for a large number of students: 70 may prove a substantial underestimate of the numbers involved. Elected senators representing humanities and social sciences spoke vehemently against and voted against the proposals, but the university's statement - that senate voted in favour - is, shamefully, correct.

It was an impassioned minority who made the case that it is not in the students' interests to be awarded devalued degrees, nor in anyone's to render degree classifications meaningless to prospective employers. These classifications could be open to later contestation when an acad-emic asked to act as referee may have to inform an employer that a classification is not borne out by the applicant's transcript.

Such arguments, it appears, fell on deaf ears, as did warnings of the potential damage to Keele's reputation should senate vote through the proposals. But as this decision has now become public knowledge, it should also be public knowledge that the senators were forbidden from discussing these controversial proposals with colleagues before the debate.

Examinations officers, programme directors, ordinary teaching colleagues, programme administrators and the wider student body were not consulted on what impact the proposals might have, nor on how they might be implemented fairly.

Other options were not open for debate at the senate either. Like other institutions, Keele could have delayed graduations. It could have reassured students that it would do everything in its power to resolve the industrial action quickly. It could have trusted in the academic standards it has until now upheld. Instead, what we have is a serious diminution of those standards in the interests of "business continuity planning". Now we have on our statute book a precedent that could be invoked at any point to award degrees to whole cohorts of students, a precedent that will render Keele degrees grossly incomparable to those conferred by other institutions.

Managers did not communicate the senate's decision to students until two weeks after the decision was made. In the meantime, students had read of the decision in the local and national press and were shocked that they were not informed by their university first. Many are confused and upset about the implication that their degrees won't fully reflect the effort they have put in. Some students, we understand, are now abandoning any revision at all. We cer-tainly hope that other universities will have enough sense not to follow suit and, given the dangerous precedent this university has set, we hope that the Universities and Colleges Employers'

Association will resume negotiations with the Association of University Teachers and resolve the dispute as soon as possible.

Joe Andrew, Ian Bell, Eleanor Curran, Katherine de Gama, Christopher Harrison and 15 others Keele University

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