Ditch class approach

April 11, 1997

From Richard Hudson

THREE cheers if "a consensus over abolishing traditional degree classifications" really is emerging (THES, March 28). Even by normal academic standards, degree classification is irrational. We spend hours giving precise marks for individual degree elements; and then we spend more hours boiling all these marks down into a crude four-way split.

We know borderline cases are simply borderline cases; and yet we force ourselves to divide them arbitrarily between the two neighbouring classes. In order to do this, we allow ourselves to give extra marks for good behaviour (etc) to the borderliners, but not to anyone else. We know that our external examiners only see some of the work of some students, and yet we expect them to have opinions on degree classes, especially the tricky borderline cases that we who know the students well cannot resolve. Very few employers pay any attention to degree classes, and even the funding councils find them too crude.

Abolition of degree classification is one of the few reforms where there would be no losers, and we might save some money. The only prerequisite is that students should be told their marks for individual elements. What else can we say about a student beyond what is shown by their transcript of course results, plus our references?

It might be helpful to produce a mechanical grade-point average, but even this is not obvious - nobody suggests reducing GCSE or A-level results to a single figure, so why is it so important at degree level? In airing these views over the last decade I have not found any academic who disagrees. So who does believe in degree classes, and why is it taking so long to get rid of them?

Richard Hudson, Department of phonetics and linguistics, University College, London

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