Students and their prospective employers would be able to see a course- by-course breakdown of marks and grades, rather than a simple 2:1 or 2:2, under plans by the watchdog for higher education standards. The reports would supplement degree certificates by giving a detailed breakdown of the marks on each course a student takes through the three years at university.
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, which publishes inspectors' verdicts on all university departments, says the reports would give more information to students, academics and employers.
All universities would use a standard form of report, but the traditional honours system of firsts, upper and lower seconds and thirds would be retained. The quality regulator is considering an overhaul of the way colleges are awarded the power to grant their own degrees. Up to 20 colleges of higher education are hoping to win permission to award degrees, now issued under the auspices of a university.
The new reports, known as "progress files", are a response to the huge increase in modular degree courses, which are broken down into a series of "bite-sized" courses.
Student leaders welcomed the proposals, saying they would give a better idea of student's achievement. A spokesman for the National Union of Students said: "Educationally speaking, the traditional student is dead. The student of the 21st century is much more flexible. Employers will understand if people mess up one of their modules, but the advantage of this is if you mess up your finals you will still have credit for the good work you did throughout your course."
Academics were concerned that the system of awarding one grade of degree gives little information about what students actually study at university and how well they perform. They also feel that a breakdown of marks could lead to step-by-step courses designed for those who cannot commit themselves to a full-time degree course.
Universities welcomed the plans. Baroness Warwick, chief executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said the change would raise standards. She added: "The quality of learning will be improved and the basis for academic standards will be clearer. The difference is in the kind of information available to employers.
"Detailing modules completed, key skills learnt and other learning achieved, will be incomparable with the present certificate that simply gives the name and classification of the degree obtained."