A new university raised the marks of over 4,000 of its students by 6 per cent because of the disruption caused by building work on one of its campuses.
The move by the University of Westminster, described by a spokesman for the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals as "extremely unusual" and "very surprising", came after a semester of disruption on its Harrow campus.
In a memo marked "Urgent-Exams" circulated June 2, the provost at the Harrow campus informed staff: "It has been agreed that the university will acknowledge the difficult circumstances in which both students and staff have been working over the past few months by enhancing the marks given to students at the end of semester II with an automatic compensation."
This compensation amounted to an increase of 6 per cent on students' existing marks for all modules studied on the Harrow campus. Staff were helpfully told to multiply marks by 1.06 and given a table starting at 20, that spelt out "20 becomes 21", and went up to "80 becomes 85".
Roger Brown, chief executive of the Higher Education Quality Council, said: "If this move was approved by the academic board, and is in keeping with institutional policy, then it is entirely a matter for the university. Universities are responsible for their own academic standards."
A spokesman for the university said: "The decision was agreed by the university's academic quality committee and external examiners were informed. It was based on a precedent established at our Marylebone campus when students on environment courses were compensated for disruption."
He added that a letter was sent to students who had studied on the Harrow campus - but not to all the university's 19,000 students.
The spokesman for the CVCP said: "It is quite common for universities to compensate students in individual cases, but it is surprising to see compensation awarded in a blanket way in this manner. The CVCP would be very interested to see the institutional guidelines that allow for such a move."
Norman Jackson, who is carrying out a study of modularisation for the HEQC, said: "It is important that institutions analyse marks obtained for different modules so that they can detect fluctuations. It is not unusual for external examiners to query fluctuations in particular modules and to recommend that marks be adjusted in some way if they are really out of step with other years."
Westminster decided to compensate students before all modules had been marked. The spokesman said: "We decided on a multiplier of 1.06 because we felt that this would give a set of results that would be equitable given the amount of disruption."
The disruption on the Harrow campus has continued this semester, and the university is considering how best to compensate students again.