We Hear you got a first but what else have you done?

Degree classification 'should not be only measure of achievement', says report. Jack Grove writes

October 4, 2012

Academic transcripts should be awarded to all graduates to provide a richer sense of student achievement beyond degree classification, a new report has recommended.

About 30 higher education institutions currently offer their departing graduates a certificate known as the Higher Education Achievement Report (Hear), which details their marks for each degree module, core skills learned and extracurricular activities completed.

But a Universities UK committee, led by Sir Robert Burgess, vice-chancellor of the University of Leicester, has now called for the transcripts to be offered by all higher education institutions from this year.

In a report, titled Bringing It All Together: Introducing the Hear, published on 3 October, Professor Burgess says the Hear has proved popular with students, institutions and employers during a two-year trial period at 30 universities.

Employers are keen to use the transcript for interview purposes and as a degree verification tool, while students felt it offered a broader picture of their achievements, the report says.

Universities believe the Hear will encourage learning and engagement throughout the whole undergraduate course rather than simply a narrow focus on final-year exams.

Anthony Smith, vice-provost (education) at University College London, which will offer the Hear to new students from this year, said: "We should not think employers are only looking at whether someone has a first, a 2:1 or a 2:2.

"The additional richness offered by Hear will be very useful for employers. For instance, we are really committed to students volunteering and that will now become part of their academic record."

The report's recommendation is the final chapter in a process started in 2004 to consider replacing the honours degree classification with an alternative measure that eliminates the "cliff edges" of the current system.

Most universities have resisted switching to a US-style grade point average (GPA) system, so the Hear is designed to offer "a wider and useful context to degree classifications", which may, in time, "eclipse" the current grading system, the report says.

But some - like UCL - are looking at adopting the Hear alongside a change to GPA. About 90 institutions have expressed an interest in offering the certificate to new students this year - a tipping point that could lead to sector-wide adoption, the report says.

Professor Burgess said the sector-wide introduction of Hear signified a "quiet qualifications revolution" for higher education. "[Universities] are poised to adopt a new way of measuring student achievement that could ultimately see degree classifications wane in importance," he said.

But the UUK report also identifies the problem of gaining industry-wide awareness of the Hear and how to help employers understand the reports. A similar National Record of Achievement scheme for school-leavers, introduced in 1991, has failed to achieve widespread recognition by employers.

The cost of implementing the transcripts across the sector was also a "sensitive issue", the report notes.

Initial running costs will range from £25,000 to £80,000 a year per institution, it says, although Sir Robert said this would fall to an average of £15,000. Students have also questioned whether their first-year exams or failed modules should be included, fearing that such information would count against them with employers.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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