Pass/fail proposal fails to pass muster

January 20, 2006

Plans to replace the traditional honours degree classification system with a simple three-point scale have been roundly rejected by employers and academics, writes Phil Baty.

A review group recommended last year that the system of awarding first, second and third-class degrees should be scrapped as so many students now gain firsts and upper seconds.

Headed by Leicester University vice-chancellor Robert Burgess, the group has recommended awarding a simple pass/fail grade with a tiny proportion of top performers awarded a distinction grade. Grades would be backed up by an academic transcript, covering performance on all areas of a course and detailing skills and knowledge acquired.

But the plans were rejected by employers and the two leading academic trade unions after a consultation period.

In its formal response, the Institute of Directors said: "Transcripts should add detail to the overall picture, but the primacy of emphasis should remain with an overall grade."

Susan Anderson, director of human resources policy at the Confederation of British Industry, said: "Degree classifications have worked well and employers are familiar with the system. There is no need for overarching reform of the grading system."

Lecturers' union Natfhe said there would have to be very good reasons for changing a system that worked well.

The Association of University Teachers said it was "odd" that a desire to refine the system had led to a "much cruder" proposal for pass, fail and distinction, albeit backed by transcripts.

Professor Burgess said: "We have already planned further discussions with employers and members of the sector, which will inform our final report."

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