Essex not in excess

October 16, 1998

Your account of the Quality Assurance Agency report on Essex ("Too many first-class degrees", THES, October 9) is misleading. The report does not say that Essex gives too many firsts. The reference to first-class degrees concerns new rules for the exercise of discretion by boards of examiners in the classification of degrees. It was these rules that the auditor said might "err on the side of generosity".

These rules were introduced in response to frequent comments from our external examiners that Essex made firsts too difficult to obtain. The latest published figures show that 8.1 per cent of Essex graduates obtained first-class degrees, a figure barely changed over a decade and the 32nd highest among UK universities.

Sensationalist headlines like "Too many first-class degrees" create a false impression of this university and also damage the integrity of the quality assurance procedures in higher education. The QAA has exceptionally given permission for the university to publish the report on its website (http://essex.ac.uk/qar). All who read it will find that it is balanced and positive.

Geoffrey Crossick Pro vice-chancellor (academic) University of Essex

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