A lone voice (1)

November 3, 2000

Am I the only one who feels that a four-level undergraduate structure for qualifications is necessary ("QAA told to rethink its award rankings", THES , October ).

My college delivers higher education courses validated by nine different bodies. My faculty runs Edexcel higher national certificates and diplomas as well as ordinary and honour degree top-ups validated by a university partner.

The HNC begins at sub-A level and builds to a difficulty just below that of the first year of our university partner. The HND adds more difficult material but is less intellectually challenging than university second year. Our ordinary degree adds more intellectual skills and exits slightly above the university second year. The additional units studied for an honours degree add only a modest amount of factual knowledge but a huge extension to students' capacity to apply their own intelligence to complex problems.

There are two ways of merging these four levels into three. One would have three levels approximately equalling the years of a traditional degree. This would value both higher nationals at level 1, overestimating the academic challenge of the HNC and significantly undervaluing the HND. The other would value the both at levels 1 and 2, and the two degrees at level 3, implicitly placing the HND at second-year level. This is not realistic: some successful HND graduates find progression to ordinary degree difficult. Neither model is satisfactory.

What then of the new foundation degree? If it is at level 2 of 3, it might be little more than a repackaging of the HND. If, however, it is at level 3 of a four-level structure, it would be on a par with the ordinary degree in terms of difficulty, if not in volume.

Linking a qualification at this level to a significant employer input and work experience produces distinctly new provision, neither threatening the integrity of HNC/Ds nor undermining the academic rigour of honours degrees.

Steve Wright
Higher education coordinator
Faculty of technology
Blackburn College

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