Oxford Brookes University has become the first UK higher education institution to adopt a US-style grade-point average (GPA) scheme alongside traditional honours degree classifications.
From September, all new students will when they graduate be awarded two grades: a single numerical mark showing the average of all grades received during an entire degree course and an honours degree class based on academic performance in later years of study.
Oxford Brookes is the first university from the so-called “Group of 12”, which began to examine degree classification reform in 2011, to introduce a GPA system.
Several of the group’s members, including University College London, started to model how the GPA system might work in theory, but the trumpeted reforms appear to have lost momentum.
Instead, most universities have signed up to the Higher Education Achievement Report, which will provide students with a transcript of their module marks at university but no overall grade-point average.
Oxford Brookes decided to introduce the GPA system for several reasons, said John Raftery, the university’s pro vice-chancellor for student experience.
One of the advantages is that it avoids the “cliff edges” between degree classifications, particularly for students who have missed out on an upper-second degree by a few marks, Professor Raftery said.
“A number of universities have recognised that we need to look at our degree system, which has been in place for 200 years.
“We are not going to throw away the current classification system as employers know it, but our system offers students an array of marks.”
Under the new scheme, students will receive a GPA score expressed both as a single numerical value accurate to one decimal point - with 4.0 being the top score - as well as the traditional honours degree system better understood in the UK.
Running the systems in parallel will allow students to benefit from both approaches, Professor Raftery argued.
The GPA system, which was approved by the university’s academic board on 13 February, will offer a more “granular” record of a student’s achievement beyond the five points of the established honours system and is better suited to modular study, which did not exist 200 years ago, he said.
However, retaining the established system of classifications based primarily on final-year performance would allow students to experiment in the first few years, he added.
“In the first year, students are finding their feet and often only get into their stride in the second year,” Professor Raftery said.
“The established classification scheme is very good at measuring ‘exit velocity’ - the achievement of a student in their final year - but we will also run GPA, where everything counts, alongside it.”
He added that employers from outside the UK often did not recognise the honours degree system.
“We use the terminology ‘second class’ in academia, but it means something different to people outside the sector,” he said.
“The University of Hong Kong has been providing graduates with a GPA in addition to degree class for some years.
“We are not saying the GPA is ‘better’, but combining it with the honours degree classification will certainly provide an enriched picture of student achievement.”