Select Committee Inquiry - Third-class efforts won firsts, examiner claims

March 5, 2009

An external examiner has claimed that at one university, first-class marks were routinely given to students for work that merited only third-class degrees or even failures.

Richard Royle, senior lecturer in law at the Lancashire Law School, University of Central Lancashire, told the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee of his "astonishment" at the poor quality of students' work and course material that he encountered during his four years as an external examiner for the institution's law degree course.

But despite repeatedly raising concerns about standards, he was persistently ignored, he said.

Mr Royle declined to name the institution in his written submission, but he has submitted relevant documentation to the committee.

He told the MPs that he had "just finished" his four-year spell as an external examiner, covering his specialist areas of land law and equity trusts.

"Throughout my four-year period, I had repeatedly passed comment about the standard of the work ... being awarded first-class marks, but there was, nevertheless, a steady decline throughout my period of office," he said.

"I was concerned not only with the standard of marking, but also with the content of the modules ... none of the more modern and difficult areas (of the subject) was taught at all."

Mr Royle added: "Last year, I was totally astonished at the poor quality of the answers that were awarded first-class marks ... students were awarded a first ... for work that would be on the borderline of third class and failure at my institution."

He said that he had written letters of concern to the programme's co-ordinator, but to no avail.

"At the assessment board, it was made clear to me that the marks would not be changed and that my comments were unwelcome ...

"Here the difference in opinion is three whole grades - the difference between a bare pass and a comfortable first-class mark."

He concluded: "It should be considered whether there should be some assessments that are set (and perhaps even marked) externally."

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