Middlesex abolishes exams for first-years

October 15, 2004

Middlesex University has abandoned exams for first-year degree students in what critics claim is an unprecedented move to make it easier for students to pass.

A memo leaked to The Times Higher reveals that the university is moving to "100 per cent coursework" for first-year modules.

Middlesex confirmed this week that traditional tests in formal exam conditions have been dropped for all first-year courses except where an exceptional case has been made to the academic board - such as when a professional body requires exams before it will recognise a degree.

Coursework, the university insisted, is the best way to "facilitate learning" for first years and also helps to identify weak students earlier in their course.

But one source at Middlesex, who did not want to be identified, said: "If student numbers are down, you can increase retention rates by ensuring that students pass in any case. It's good for business and good for ratings."

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University and adviser to the Commons' Education Select Committee, said: "I hope Middlesex is making the change for important educational reasons and not in response to pressure from Government to keep down dropout rates."

Middlesex was embroiled in controversy earlier this year when The Times Higher reported concerns that it was setting a "de facto" maximum failure rate for its courses by demanding a report from staff on any module where 15 per cent of students or more failed.

Ken Goulding, Middlesex's deputy vice-chancellor, said: "It is strongly held in the university that learning is what matters most at level one and that demanding coursework is the best way to facilitate learning."

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