Sheffield degree criteria slated

May 14, 2004

Quality watchdogs have questioned the fairness of assessment practices at Sheffield University after discovering that it uses two different systems to classify students' final degrees.

In an audit report published this week, the Quality Assurance Agency calls on Sheffield to review and revise its assessment practices as a matter of priority.

The report otherwise concludes that "broad confidence" can be placed in Sheffield's management of standards and quality.

The university adopted the two separate methods for classifying honours degrees in 2001, according to its self-evaluation document. It did this because it could not reconcile differing but deeply held views within its academic disciplines.

The university had said that there would be "complete clarity" for staff and students as to which method would be used by each department. But QAA auditors found evidence that some students were unsure about which criteria had been applied.

The auditors say it was not clear what should happen when the two assessment methods gave the same student - who had taken courses under both regimes - two different classifications.

The report says: "In the view of the team, this issue is one of principle rather than of volume: individual students should be confident of how they will be assessed, how that assessment will be judged, and how those judgements will be aggregated into an honours classification."

The QAA also says there is variation in the way the rules on allowing students to progress from first to the second year are applied by different departments, depending on which faculty conventions were being used.

In its official response to the report published as an appendix, Sheffield says that it welcomes the QAA's conclusion of "broad confidence" in the university's management of quality and standards, endorsement of the reliability of the published information, and its commendation for three areas of the university's quality assurance activities.

But it says: "The university considers the report does not fully convey the extent of (our teaching and learning) excellence or the work undertaken across the university in academic departments and, centrally, to maintain and enhance the student experience."

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