Second-class masters

October 8, 1999

'It is the practice for students who achieve a fail grade to be offered a multidisciplinary masters rather than a postgraduate diploma'

Students who fail masters degree courses at Middlesex University Business School have been awarded other masters degrees with lower pass marks, Whistleblowers has learnt.

The university's head of quality has warned privately that the practice is "indefensible", but his recommendation to raise pass marks for all taught postgraduate programmes to those in line with the rest of the sector was criticised by deputy vice-chancellor Ken Goulding.

In a memo this summer, Geoffrey Alderman, pro vice-chancellor responsible for quality assurance, warned that there is an "anomalous situation whereby students who fail a named masters award have been offered a multidisciplinary masters award It is the practice in MUBS for students who achieve (a fail grade) to be offered a multidisciplinary masters rather than a postgraduate diploma. The clear implication is that the university runs two standards of masters programmes. This is indefensible."

Professor Goulding responded to Professor Alderman's concerns in August. He wrote that there is a "regulatory fault line with certain masters programmes. This implies two standards of masters awards and that the multidisciplinary masters programme is being devalued. Indeed, this view cannot be contested - it is patently true and indefensible."

The problem stems from the fact that to meet external professional regulatory requirements, several masters courses in the business school - including the MBA - have a pass mark of 12 points on a scale from 1 to 20, with 1 representing the top mark and 20 the worst. Most other masters programmes across the university have a pass mark of just 16. Students on the tougher masters courses who score between 13 and 16 have been allowed to transfer under the university's modular, credit accumulation and transfer structure.

In a proposed solution, Professor Alderman said that students who fail to achieve a 12 on courses where 12 is the minimum pass grade should not be offered another masters award. "I also believe that the university should move rapidly to a situation whereby 12 is the minimum pass grade for all taught postgraduate programmes," he said. "This would bring us in line with the sector generally, where the minimum percentage for the award of a taught masters degree is 50 per cent."

In his response, Professor Goulding said he had "doubts" about the plan because the Middlesex grading system "does not equate to percentages" and 16 is the pass grade for all the university's other programmes.

In a statement to The THES, the university said: "All Middlesex University programmes, of course, are properly validated and externally moderated. Only students who fulfil all regulations are confirmed for an award by the assessment board." Dean of students Brian Hipkin said that about ten in 800 students a year in the business school transfer to a different masters after failing.

The university said that although the "different grade requirements" are "perfectly legitimate", "Middlesex University would prefer a situation where the same grade requirements apply for all programmes." Proposals to revise the system will be put to the academic board next month.

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