Degree reclassifications progress slowly

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Since being established in February 2007, a Degree Classification Working Party has been reviewing Lancaster University’s existing degree classification regulations with mixed success.  Their aim was to consider possible changes, hoping to improve classification procedures.

The Working Party, which consists of university staff and academics, has attempted to address recurring areas of concern within the system. This has included analysing existing regulations at other universities throughout the UK, as well as the study of a range of models and principles within the Higher Education (HE) sector in order to simplify Lancaster’s classification system and also understand how change was effected and, most importantly, reviewed.

According to Dr Gavin Brown, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Chairman of the Degree Classification Working Party, “most feedback from external examiners is highly complementary and there are rarely any concerns about the standards and quality of our degree awards. However, every year there are three recurring themes that, for a small but significant proportion of examiners, give cause for concern and where the university is encouraged to review its approach.”

As reported by Brown, the Working Party initially considered whether change was necessary or whether minor alterations to the existing procedures and regulations would address the perceived issues.  Brown stated “it was the consensus of the group that significant change is required, particularly to successfully address the complexity of our current regulations, the use of the full marking range and perceived generosity of existing condonation rules.”

On 2nd March this year, Brown presented a draft of proposals for initial consultation before the Academic Council, highlighting the three main areas of contention.  These areas are the perceived complexity of degree classification regulations; the limited use of the full marking range in some subject areas; and also a perceived lack of consistency and guidance in the operation of examination boards.

The draft proposal for undergraduate degree regulations, applicable to all programmes of study, incorporates new and particular proposals and also seeks to consolidate and simplify previously existing regulations which the Working Party thought should be retained. The new proposal includes eight main propositions such as a university-wide grading system intended to promote the use of the full marking range and directly link to the assessment of learning outcomes; use of aggregation scores to determine overall module performance and hence degree classification; a more limited use of condonation and the provision of final year re-sits.

Brown claims that “what the proposal has attempted to do is to pull together the relevant elements of the existing regulations, incorporate the new proposals as set out above, and present them as a single document encompassing all aspects of assessment regulations.” However, when presented to the Academic Council, the proposal was met with mixed reviews.

Various comments, suggestions and criticisms were made surrounding the proposed changes, such as the possible altercation of the late submission penalty to 0%, re-sits for final year students and also marking boundaries. A vote was also held among the council, which highlighted areas of concern and resulted in the majority disagreeing with the current proposal. Danny Ovens, LUSU VP Academic Affairs stated that, “feedback was taken onboard and the report is going back to the working group before another draft being circulated. The Academic Council agreed to wait for the next draft before making a decision on whether to endorse the new proposals or not. If there is not a major consensus on the new proposals, Dr Brown will not take it to the May Senate to be agreed in principle.”

Brown was keen to stress that the proposal is not a finalised product and that only if it meets with institutional agreement and approval, will the regulations be incorporated back into the University’s overarching academic regulations, the overall format of which is itself currently under review. During the Lent term, the proposal was reviewed university-wide within individual departments and faculties to provide as much feedback as possible. The Working Party now plans to assess the feedback on 15th April and subsequently refine the proposal.

If sufficient consensus of the newly redrafted proposal is obtained by the Academic Council later this term, the final version of the new Assessment Proposal can be submitted to the May Senate for implementation in October 2011.  It is, however, possible that some aspects of the proposal, such as the operation of exam boards, could be implemented prior to this date.

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