Rising grades back in the news again

UK politicians wonder how / why the number of 1:1 degrees awarded in the UK has almost doubled in a decade. Read about it here and here. Yesterday’s Observer also carried the story, garnering 250+ comments.  There seems to be suggestion that different institutions require different levels of effort from students to achieve their degree classification. The conclusion seems to be that the watchdog overseeing standards isn’t doing its job right.

I wonder how they could possibly consider that standards are and / or should be the same across the entire gamut of universities. It’s absurd to think that that there can be equality. It would be like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. Yes, they are both fruit but so vastly different.

The only way equality and direct comparisons across institutions could be made is if marking were centralised ala the leaving certificate in this country, and all students sit the same unseen papers.  That’s not going to happen. The administration nightmare for a start puts a limit on it. Even if that obstacle was overcome, such an approach would merely strait-jacket third-level education, preventing any flexibility and innovation, let alone eating into much-valued (from everyone’s point of view) academic freedom. Third level would become a continuation of the second-level spoon feeding exercise, and that’s not even useful at second-level.

The politicians argue that employers have a right to know whether they should employ person A with a degree from university A or person B with the “same” degree from university B.  I don’t think it is as straight-forward as that.  An employee brings a lot more than their degree parchment to a job. Indeed, that degree parchment is just one indicator of their abilities for the particulars of a given job. I have heard of employers not taking 1:1 students believing that they tend to be one-dimensional and not as rounded personalities as those with lower honours. Consider as another example the most successful graduate of my undergraduate degree. This person is now one of the country’s foremost business people but didn’t come top of the class or achieve a first class honours qualification.  Yet, he achieved the grounding required to proceed to his very impressive achievements.

In Ireland we have a much smaller number of universities and colleges than in the UK. As such it should be easier to ascertain what is a “good” college and what is not. The definition of “good”, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It differs for everyone.  If a potential student is interested in studying a precise area of engineering then their definition of good is limited down to the few institutions offering this course. If they have a strong location preference then it is likely that their choice is very much reduced, particularly if they live outside of Dublin.  Students need to work out what is important to them, rank and weight those criteria, attending as many open days for different institutions as they can. In this way, they can choose the institution that best fits their definition of “good”.

A problem is that far too many students don’t do this. Their decisions can be made on flimsy criteria such as: “my boy/girlfriend is going to _______ so I’m going there too”, or “my daddy wants me to study ______ at ________ so that’s what I’m doing”, or “that college give too many / few first class honours degrees”, and for older students “I don’t know how I will juggle in studying with the job and family life but I feel obliged to obtain a masters”.  A student’s goal on entering college is likely to effect the award classification they get on leaving. If entry goals are so varied and in some cases, shallow, what can we really expect?

This looks like a debate that will run and run.

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Update: Jobless graduate sues her college

I couldnt even begin to comment.

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Posted on August 3, 2009, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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