Universities should ‘ditch degree ratings for point scores’, says advisory group

Moving to an internationally recognised 'grade point average' system would give employers a more accurate picture of a graduate’s achievement

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The Independent Online

Universities should scrap degree classifications and replace them with a US-style point score, according to a government advisory group.

Moving to an internationally recognised “grade point average” (GPA) system would give employers a more accurate picture of a graduate’s achievement, said the GPA Advisory Group.

It reported the findings of a two-year pilot study, ordered by the Government, in which more than 20 universities tested the system most commonly used in the US. It calls for all UK universities to introduce a GPA system and run it alongside the traditional honours system for five years. Universities may opt to switch to GPA alone after this “dual running” period to allow institutions to fine tune their points score system, it said.

The pilot was ordered after fears that the current system, which awards graduates first, upper-second, lower-second and third-class degrees, is failing adequately to differentiate between students. There are also fears that the minimum 2:1 degree demanded by many employers has fuelled grade inflation at UK universities. Last year, seven out of 10 graduates achieved a first or 2:1, while the numbers graduating with a first has more than doubled in a decade.

The advisory group concluded that a GPA system, used in a number of countries as well as the US, would allow employers to differentiate between students who were awarded the same degree classification: a graduate who gains 60 per cent is awarded the same 2:1 as one who achieves 68 per cent, Some employers already use candidates’ A-level results when recruiting because they no longer trust degree classifications.

A GPA system could also help to motivate students, said the group, with every mark they get improving their final result. “In the honours system, final-year students may know they are on course for a 2:1 but a first-class degree is beyond reach,” it said. “In this case, there may be little incentive to achieve the highest performance as it will not benefit their final reward. In a GPA system, strong marks in final modules can increase the ultimate score.”

The group sets out a single GPA scale for universities to use, which ranges from a grade point of 4.25 – equivalent to an A-plus – to 2.5 (C) and 0 – equivalent to an F-minus. But the report noted that universities were autonomous institutions and were therefore free to make the decision whether or not to adopt a  GPA system.

Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of the vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK, said: “The sector has recognised for some time that the current degree classification system is a blunt instrument. The aim is to provide a more detailed account of what a student has actually achieved during their studies, rather than just a one-off degree classification.

“The report outlines the benefits of a GPA system and an agreed scale of average marks. It will provide a good platform now to test the value of GPA with the whole higher education sector.”