Illiterate students may face new test

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Students' writing skills have worsened so dramatically that lecturers at some of the country's most prestigious universities are calling for undergraduates to gain literacy certificates before submitting coursework.

Despite ever-improving A-level results, academics at universities such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow complain that school-leavers arrive ill- equipped to perform the most basic essay-writing tasks. To deal with the growing problem, institutions are now being forced to offer remedial classes in English, and lecturers want students to prove they have reached a certain level of competence.

With drop-out rates risisng, course leaders say students struggle to construct proper paragraphs and have no grasp of basic grammar. Some have even started to use text and email terminology in formal academic work, while others grind out sentences such as: "My main worrie's is not be able to meet my aims."

Even within the supposedly élite Russell Group of institutions, an association of 19 esteemed research-intensive universities, there is an acceptance that drastic measures are necessary. A secret review of coursework at the University of Glasgow, a group member, revealed that lecturers believed the situation to be at "critical point". The report's author, Dr Alice Jenkins, said: "There is an urgent case for a 'literacy certificate'."