Pass history

August 20, 2004

Your report from Middlesex University ("Staff angered by failure rule", August 13) is consistent with what, quietly, many people have told one another for years.

When I was a lecturer at another polytechnic-then-university, a veteran academic said to me before an exam board: "For God's sake, you have to learn at (exam boards) to give your higher-ups and the external examiners what they want to see. You know what they want: two or three fails, to show you mean business, two or three firsts, and everyone else in between. Give them that and they'll be happy and spend the time on borderline cases and prizes and so on. Give them a lot of fails and the best you can expect is that they'll demand aggressively to know what you did wrong and how you propose to rectify your mistakes in future."

A few years later, a newish lecturer told me he was going to fail up to half the course, and I suggested he should realise the consequences of that, and repeated what the other chap had said. I don't exactly know what happened, but the large number of failures didn't materialise.

Roger Schafir
London

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