Unequal in eyes of law

February 21, 2013

It is interesting to read that the University of Surrey has voted against “normalising” marks on its LLB course to ensure that fewer students fail despite pressure to do so “as the Law School is out of line with (other) good institutions” in awarding “good degrees” (“Law School staff give poor marks to exam proposals”, News, 24 January).

Unistats data confirm that in many Russell Group universities, fewer “good degrees” (firsts and 2:1s) are awarded to students on law courses than to their peers in other departments with comparable entry tariffs. For example, in 2012 the history departments at the universities of Leeds, Nottingham, Exeter and Bristol gave, respectively, 95, 96, 97 and 98 per cent of students good honours degrees, yet the figures for their law schools were, on average, 20 per cent lower.

Notable among these is the University of Nottingham’s School of Law. It has an entry requirement of AAA* plus the National Admissions Test for Law (no other degree course at Nottingham has more demanding criteria), yet only 55 per cent of its LLB students achieved good honours. Compare this with the history department (which has less onerous entry requirements), where the corresponding figure was 96 per cent.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, despite demanding the seventh-highest entry requirements of the top 20 universities for law, Nottingham awards the lowest percentage of good degrees.

Should it be commended for the rigour of its marking policy, or should we question a system that allows such disparity, not only across universities but even within the same institution?

Islay Milner

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