Goldsmiths is under QAA fire

September 6, 2002

Goldsmiths College cannot demonstrate that its degree results are fair or "defensible" because it lacks control over marking, and runs two different assessment systems, say quality watchdogs.

The Quality Assurance Agency is also worried that students at the college, part of the University of London, can earn an honours degree even if they fail half of their final-year assessments.

In an otherwise positive audit report that generally endorsed Goldsmiths'

standards, the QAA says that problems with marking and degree-classification systems "made it difficult for the college to demonstrate that consistent, defensible standards were applied and that all possibility of bias or prejudice was eliminated". The QAA says the college must review its regulatory framework "as a matter of high priority".

Goldsmiths runs two assessment schemes - a scheme for art and design students based on aggregate marks for eight elements, and a "unit degree scheme" based on percentage scores for other undergraduates.

A number of disparities between the systems have caused problems. While art and design students are required to pass all elements before moving to the second year, those on the unit-based system are allowed to carry a number of failed units into the second year, with September resits.

The QAA report says: "These disparities... made it more difficult for the college to compare academic standards across the institution or to demonstrate that students were treated equitably."

There were also concerns that both systems suffered from "practices that might be perceived as beyond sector norms".

In the unit degree scheme, the report says that "it is possible to be awarded an honours degree even though half of the final year units are failed".

The QAA says that weighting factors could vary between departments, so "students with identical mark profiles in different departments could be awarded different classes of degree".

In the art and design scheme, the QAA says that examiners could "use any scale of marks or grades they wish in determining a result within a given element". This means the university could not properly demonstrate standards were applied fairly.

The QAA acknowledges that the college was already planning to review its regulatory framework at the time of its visit during 2001-02.

A Goldsmiths spokeswoman said the college was "extremely proud" of the QAA report, as it confirmed the college was generally successful in discharging its responsibilities for assuring the quality of its provision.

The college was commended "for two important areas of activity" - the effectiveness of programme monitoring and the "positive college culture supporting its long-standing widening participation agenda".

She said: "Goldsmiths is confident that its review will result in a refined framework that builds on the strengths of the existing models whilst providing greater transparency for students."

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