More discrimination

June 16, 2000

I was glad to see John Randall raise the question of abolishing degree classification (Why II THES, June 9). But I was a little surprised that he did not stress the fact that the system fails to discriminate sufficiently between a performance that is well above average and one that is well below average.

In the academic year 1998-99 no fewer than 19 of the major history departments in the country awarded upper seconds to between 66 and 84 per cent of their students graduating that year.

Some 69 per cent of 309 history graduates at Oxford gained upper seconds; nearly 76 per cent of history graduates at Edinburgh did the same; while at Bristol 84 per cent of history graduates gained upper seconds, and less than 6 per cent were awarded lower seconds.

I am not challenging these results, but I am saying that the difference between the very best upper second and the very worst - in every case - is likely to have been enormous, yet graduates will have been labelled for life with the same classification of degree.

Harry Dickinson. Professor of history. University of Edinburgh

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