Is a points system for degrees a waste time?

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Julia Molloy – No

It has recently been announced that 20 UK universities will be taking part in a new project, trialling a points system to go alongside current degree classifications. This would mean that graduates would not only have a classification of a 2:1 (or upper second) for example, but would also have a points score indicating whether it is a low, middle, or high 2:1. The main reason for such a project is to help employers to distinguish between the many students who leave university with a 2:1. Surely, this can only be a good thing.

For too long we have languished under a system that bundles together graduates who could have in fact performed very differently throughout their courses, and yet still achieve a 2:1 degree overall. Obtaining a 2:1 in your degree only informs future employers that you have performed as well as the many hundreds of other applicants who have also achieved a 2:1, as depressing as it is. With a points system, if you achieve a high 2:1 whereas another candidate only just scrapes through, in theory you would be much more employable. It’s also satisfying for any who have just missed out on the grade above. If you have missed out on a first by a fraction, for example, wouldn’t you want your employer to know that fact to differentiate you from other graduates who haven’t done as well?

It may be that such a system will encourage even more competition and put even more pressure on today’s students when it comes to the job market. The fact is, however, that providing more information on how well you performed during your degree is there to aid rather than hinder you. For those students who perhaps shy away from doing the work, it should provide a better incentive to put the effort in now to avoid any heartache later. The prospect of having your degree modules laid bare on your CV should be enough to not only help employers in the tough decisions that they have to make, but to encourage students to do well in every single module to come out with a better average at the end.

Any education system of exams and qualifications will work against students who don’t achieve as highly. It’s perfectly conceivable that graduates who gain a low 2:1 are going to find it considerably harder to find a graduate job because of that extra information, but unfortunately the education system that we have can do nothing to alleviate that. It’s the same principle as those achieving a 2:2 as opposed to a 2:1 will find it harder to get a graduate job because of their lower achievement. So what’s wrong with a points system that helps to differentiate between graduates’ abilities further?

The system as proposed probably won’t be perfect. As it stands, the points would range from 0 (meaning a fail) to 4.25 (meaning a top first) – which if you ask me is a bit odd. However, Bob Burgess, chairman of Higher Education Academy advisory group, has pointed out that students want to know exactly how well they are doing and, if doing well, will have an incentive to work harder. Back in my college days, I remember it being very frustrating when exam boards dictated to teachers that they were not allowed to reveal coursework marks and as such it was very difficult to measure how well you were doing in comparison to others. With degrees it is the same principle – a points system would give us the opportunity to avoid that issue by clearly marking the record of our achievements.

It’s clear that the current system of degree classifications does not work when it comes to the job market. Through the whole debate of whether exams are getting easier or students are getting cleverer lies the fact that more and more students are leaving university with very similar grades. Some sort of system is necessary to aid employers – and this points project could be the very thing to sort it out.


Steff Brawn – Yes

As the years have gone by, although you may not want to believe it, academic performance and achievement in higher education have come to matter less and less. Two decades ago, a first or second class degree would pretty much have guaranteed you a job, even if your CV didn’t contain much else. Unfortunately now, getting a degree is far from rare, and getting into university is nowhere near as difficult as it used to be. So to distinguish between those thousands of students that are leaving university with very similar grades, more than 20 universities are looking to introduce a points score for a more accurate reflection of academic performance. Although this may be useful feedback for you and the university, employers will still be saying “so what?”
It is understandable that when so many students leave with a 2:1, it is difficult to know how well a student has performed against another, but the result of one essay is not going to snatch you that career or internship you’ve been working towards for three years or more. Most employers are looking for people who can apply themselves to tasks that go beyond what is expected of you in a degree. Skills such as organising events, selling a product, public speaking or an eye for a good story are very often not, if at all, focused upon through your studies but are available for you to enhance through extra-curricular activities. The only way to get a job in this day and age is to demonstrate that you’ve got what it takes by getting involved.
This is what is really going to help employers to distinguish between students: those who have made the most of their time at university and those that haven’t. There are hundreds of societies at Lancaster in sports, the arts, business, languages and many more that will begin to give you the specific expertise you need to tick the boxes on that job description. Experience in the job field or gaining transferable skills is invaluable to employers and puts you ahead of the game. If you’ve had hands-on experience working with a publishing firm, it won’t matter one bit if you’ve got a D in English exam. Employers will recognise that you have already worked with professionals and that you’ve been in a real situation that you would come across in a job, rather than caring about how high your 2:1 is. In fact, you’ll probably find that when it comes to an interview for a graduate job your interviewer will be far more interested in your time spent as a member of an exec, rather than whether you got a high or low 2:1. Doing extra-curricular activities is the path to gaining a graduate job, as it is through these activities that you gain those all-important skills that employers love to see splashed across your CV.
A points score will really not prove anything about how good you will be at a job, and especially not at a time when employers hardly care what subject your degree is in, never mind how many A+s you have. Providing more detail for degree classifications is simply another load of information to wade through before employers see the real you that is shown through extra-curricular activities and work experience. If you want to impress after you’ve worn your fancy hat and gown then get yourselves involved in societies and grab any opportunity you can in your desired industry. Lancaster has so many societies that you will always find one to suit you, no matter how niche you think your interests are. This is what will make your CV and cover letter shine, a desire to get involved in something new and to take on responsibility outside of your degree – not this new points system which will be a complete waste of time.

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