Whistleblowers: Students all get As as tutors are laid off

June 11, 2004

Two cohorts of degree students were told they would receive "A grades" for work that could not be assessed properly because their tutors had been laid off.

First and second-year art students at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, were told last month they would be given the top grade for three degree modules. Two part-time tutors who would have assessed the work had their contracts terminated in March.

The decision to award the A grades, which the university said this week would not stand, was made by the academic director, the head of the School of Art and the external examiner. They were awarded to all students who had opted to be continually assessed for their "seminar participation" - measuring their preparation and contribution to seminars - in three affected modules. UWICdeclined to confirm the numbers of students involved.

A website called "Hey! What happened to my education" was set up anonymously to protest against the removal of tutors Carol Jones and Nicholas Cullinan. It says: "Having dismissed their tutors, thereby depriving the students of the teaching they were supposed to be receiving, (the school) indicated it would continue to pursue its avant-garde approach to education by awarding all students a grade 'A' for the work that could not be assessed.

"Naturally stunned, some of the students made the point that this expedient solution, while admittedly novel, might not be considered entirely fair."

After their departure, Dr Cullinan and Dr Jones wrote to students on April 26, saying: "UWIC has demanded that we return completed assessments for your courses, and has threatened us with legal action if we don't.

Unfortunately, we don't have any completed assessments to return, so we can't.

"What we have are our own private notes about your attendance and performance at seminars... it will not be possible for someone else to take those numbers and try to turn them into a fair assessment of your work."

Almost three weeks later, students received a document titled "Decision regarding assessments affected by the departure of Nicholas Cullinan and Carol Jones". Dated May 14, it confirms that "all students to be awarded an 'A' grade" for seminar participation in the three modules.

This week, the institute said the automatic A grades would not stand. After inquiries from The Times Higher , UWIC had a meeting at the weekend with Dr Jones. Afterwards, it said: "No students have or would be awarded an A grade automatically.

"For a short period, it appeared that some marks had been awarded by staff but were not available to the examination board. Hence, UWIC was in the process of determining several assessment options, in full consultation with the students and external examiner, to ensure a fair assessment... All relevant and necessary marks are now available and will be considered in the course of events by the second-year examination board later this month."

Speaking to The Times Higher this week, Dr Jones said: "If the school changed its decision to award As, and decide to use our notes to arrive at assessments after all, they will be no fairer than the As."

But in a further statement, UWIC said that the students had now been assessed solely on their performance since Drs Jones and Cullinan had left.

"The two members of staff left UWIC before the assessments began in week seven of the ten-week period. Carol Jones confirmed last week that no year-two assessments were made prior to her departure, ie all marks awarded are available and will be considered by the Examination Board next week.

Essentially, the same pertains to year-one assessments. To be explicit, all students were assessed after the departures of the two staff."

Dr Jones said the case highlighted real problems in higher education caused by the overreliance on casually employed staff. "It doesn't say much for the institute's attitude to its students if they are being taught and assessed by casual labour that can be dispensed with in this way."

The institute said: "UWIC hasa policy of appointing full-time staff wherever possible. In situations such as sickness, sabbatical or maternity absence, UWIC uses full and part-time temporary staff to cover short-term contingency arrangements, as is normal practice in other higher education institutions."

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