Rising interest shown in grade point average degree classification trial

GPA Advisory Group propose five-year pilot to test GPA alongside traditional honours system

May 28, 2015
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More than 50 higher education institutions have expressed an interest in running a US-style grade point average scheme alongside traditional degree classifications.

The growing appetite for operating a dual system, in which an average mark ranging from 0 to 4.25 would be awarded next to the honours classification, is outlined in a report by the GPA Advisory Group led by Sir Bob Burgess, the former vice-chancellor of the University of Leicester.

The group, which oversaw a one-year pilot of GPA at 21 institutions, calls for universities to run GPA for a trial period of five years alongside the current classification system, which in the past critics have labelled as being “not fit for purpose”.

The report, published by the Higher Education Academy on 28 May, says the trial will give institutions the opportunity to monitor the effects of introducing the new system.

Some may switch to using GPA alone as it offers a more detailed and accurate picture of how individuals performed throughout their studies, it says.

“A process of ‘dual running’ will allow institutions to adopt GPA within timescales that suit their institutional context while ensuring that a national system is retained,” said Sir Bob, who chaired the advisory group.

The group’s recommendations, which include a call for a national review of degree classifications after five years, had been “carefully constructed to build upon the evidence from the sector regarding the appetite and capacity for change”, he added.

There is a “vital need for a more precise indicator of degree grades” and “a more internationally recognisable measure” than the honours classification system, Sir Bob claimed.

Under the scheme proposed by the group, graduates would receive one of 16 numerical marks up to 4.25, which would correspond to grades between A+ and F-.

This compares with the five-level honours classification system, in which 70 per cent of graduates earned either a first or a 2:1 last year.

However, the report’s recommendations may raise questions about the comparability of GPA scores across the sector as universities would be free to weight marks as they wished.

Institutions would be able to disregard marks for the first year and give greater weighting to final-year modules, although the report adds that the sector should strive to achieve a universal approach to GPA.

Some institutions had expressed concern that the inclusion of first-year marks would depress degree scores in some subjects, leaving their graduates at a disadvantage in the labour market compared with those from universities with more generous scoring systems.

The only publicly funded university in the UK to adopt a parallel GPA system so far – Oxford Brookes University – includes first-year students’ grades when calculating GPA, saying their use had motivated first-years to work harder, thereby improving attainment.

The potential move to GPA was welcomed as a “positive step” by Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters.

“Employers will value the greater granularity in the marking structure while students will benefit from a fairer representation of their grades,” he said.


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