Education: Universities should scrap degree classifications

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The Independent Online
Universities should move towards replacing the traditional honours degree classifications with a pass/fail system to iron out variations in degree standards, according to an influential report.

The study, published yesterday by the Higher Education Quality Council, concludes that a minimum "threshold standard" for degrees would help ensure consistency, reassuring students and employers.

Though universities, like cars, varied widely in type and purpose, they could all be obliged to pass common quality standards, the HEQC said.

The Graduate Standards Programme, launched three years ago amid mounting concern that rapid expansion in higher education had led to an overall decline in standards, confirmed that degrees in different universities and subjects were not comparable. There were now very few people who believed that "a degree is a degree is a degree", said Peter Wright, project director.

The idea of threshold standards for degrees was popular both in higher education and outside, the report found. Academics saw the system as a way of guaranteeing accountability in the eyes of the public, while students wanted to be sure of quality, particularly if they had to contribute financially towards their courses.

However, the HEQC study concluded a threshold system could not be introduced until moves had been made to ensure more comparability between degrees, including stronger external examining. Common terminology was also needed to ensure diploma or a degree at various levels had the same meaning at all higher education institutions.

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