Letter: Maintenance of university degree standards

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The Independent Online
Sir: I hope that the views on degree classification expressed by the chairman of London University Academic Council have been misrepresented ('Abolition of degree classification urged', 20 June). Explicit written criteria exist in my subject for every sub-grade of the honours degree, and they are the result of careful deliberation. I can assure Geoffrey Alderman that a 'beautiful turn of phrase' will not earn him a First.

The marking system has been carefully improved over many years, seeking to avoid statistical bias while allowing room for human judgements to override purely mathematical considerations. Standards between universities are quite effectively regulated by the very careful attention paid by examiners' boards to the opinions of external examiners, and within the university by Faculty appraisal. A range of different methods of examination is employed, while student opinion is also taken seriously. Much more detailed information is now available to both students and employers, and transcripts can be seen as additional to this.

To call the outcome of a scrupulous first-hand evaluation of a full three years' work 'crude' and 'a matter of chance' is insulting to candidate and examiner alike. Standards in our universities are now defined more vigorously than ever in my lifetime. Comprehensive auditing and assessment of teaching research and administration have been in place for longer than may be realised.

It is sad to see standards misrepresented from within before the Under-Secretary for Further and Higher Education, the CBI Education Group, and the public. It gives me at least the feeling that our best efforts are held in contempt.

Yours sincerely,


London, N19

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