Universities to ditch degree classes in favour of US-style points system

At least 20 universities will start trialling an American "grade point average" scheme

Several Russell Group universities are planning to abandon traditional degree classifications in favour of US-style "grade points".

The pilot scheme, which will run until July 2014, will see undergraduate work marked on a scale of 0 to 4.25, in a bid to generate a more accurate representation of students’ abilities.

The changes come amidst concerns that the current system of first-, second- and third-class degrees is too crude and does not distinguish students’ marks clearly enough.

At least 20 universities and colleges will be overhauling the 200-year-old system, including high-ranking institutions such as Edinburgh, Nottingham and Birmingham.

A spokesperson from the University of Edinburgh said: "We are part of a pilot that is trialling the grade points system. We have no plans to replace the existing divisions of degrees, but are exploring alternatives and supplements that might help our students as they move into employment.’

Under the traditional system, two thirds of students are currently gaining upper-second class degrees. As this is the minimum requirement for most graduate jobs, it is hoped that the use of more specific degree classifications will help to properly define graduates in the job market.

Grade points are also used widely in a number of countries across the world, meaning that comparisons between students internationally would be made easier.

The new system will allow students to score an average of anything up to 4.25 over the course of their degree – the equivalent to a high first. Other classifications will be distinguished by margins of 0.5, with a low 2:1 being graded as 3.00 and a high 2:1 as 3.50.

The pilot of the grade point average (GPA) system has been developed by The Higher Education Academy, a charity that promotes university teaching and has been backed by the Universities Minister, David Willetts.

Prof Phil Levy, deputy chief executive of the Higher Education Academy stressed the importance of the trial, saying: "It is essential that the proposed national GPA system is thoroughly tested in different institutional contexts.

"Only by doing this will the sector and wider public be able to understand whether GPA will enhance the student experience, both while they are studying and after graduation as they seek employment or further study."

Despite this, it remains unclear whether the new system will remain in place after the pilot ends. The University of Nottingham said it was committed to testing the system until 2014, but that "no decision has been made by the university regarding any action beyond 2013/2014".

The University of Birmingham also stated that their participation in the trial is likely to last for two years, depending on its success. However, its earliest implementation is set to be with the cohort starting in 2015/2016 or even 2016/2017.

The pilot scheme will be overseen by Sir Bob Burgess, the vice-chancellor of the University of Leicster.