Oxbridge deaf to the Hear's siren call

Institutions say they will not be adopting student report card scheme. David Matthews reports

October 11, 2012

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge have no plans to introduce a new system of recording student achievement, it has emerged.

Last week, Universities UK and GuildHE gave their backing to the Higher Education Achievement Reports (Hear), which will provide a detailed breakdown of students' marks and record their extracurricular activities.

As of last week, 109 of the UK's higher education institutions had requested starter packs for implementing the Hear, including 14 of the 24-strong Russell Group of research-intensive universities.

But a spokeswoman for Oxford said evidence from the Hear pilot and other feedback indicated that there was "a lack of interest from employers", and so the university had "no plans to implement the Hear, unless evidence of demand for it from our students or employers emerges".

A spokesman for Cambridge said it also had no plans to introduce the scheme.

Of the universities that responded to an enquiry to Russell Group institutions by Times Higher Education, the universities of Nottingham, Southampton and Queen's University Belfast said they have not yet decided to adopt the Hear.

One senior figure at a Russell Group university who had looked into adopting the scheme said it was likely to be a "damp squib".

Peter Williams, former chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency and a member of the steering group recommending the Hear, said that Oxford and Cambridge took "rather obvious gratification" from "being different".

He said that the pair would ultimately adopt the new system, "but only if the Hear catches on generally. Oxbridge [is] not generally 'leading' universities when it comes to innovations of this sort."

Asked why universities would adopt the Hear, Sir Robert Burgess, vice-chancellor of the University of Leicester and chair of the steering group, said that student pressure would encourage institutions to use the reports.

He argued that students would say "I would rather like one of those" if they realised their peers received the Hear.

Some universities already record student activities for their own awards. For example, the University of Southampton offers a "graduate passport" that requires students to complete a certain number of activities alongside their degree.

The University of Edinburgh already runs an "Edinburgh Award" recognising volunteering, part-time work and other activities, and has now begun to introduce the Hear.

Susan Rigby, vice-principal, learning and teaching, said that the reports were useful for developing a "sense of employability", but cautioned that universities "cannot, and should not attempt to, produce work-ready staff for a company".

She warned that the activities section of the Hear "could turn into a glorified Duke of Edinburgh's Award", in which activities, as opposed to qualities and capabilities, were recorded.

Dr Rigby stressed that students needed to reflect on their extracurricular activities, something the Edinburgh Award required them to do.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com.

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