A Commons select committee on innovation, universities and skills has declared that there has been a devaluation in University qualifications, with an 8% increase in those receivng 2:1s or 1sts since 1997. Of course the Conservative party have jumped on this with seeming relish (possible more so as it now sits in Mandy’s bailiwick?).
See the leading article in the Observer here
There is some element, in this article, of the UCAS silly season coming in to play. As Parliament shuts down for the Summer there is usually a brief period of journalistic focus on UK Universities “confirmation and clearing” period, as A-Level results are published and places confirmed. The journos usually brush off their ‘A-Levels aint wot they used to be’ article and the cry of dumbing down is struck. Cue the government crowing about its new Diplomas and defensive comments from the secondary education sector on behalf of the new wonder generation. Interesting that it has started with the University sector this year.
The most measured response comes from Diana Warwick, the Chief Executive Universities UK, “It’s ironic that they we’re focussing on the hierarchy of firsts and 2:1s when… we have regarded that as a rather blunt instrument”. This is very true. My own University has been putting a great deal of effort in the last two years to meet it’s obligations under the Bologna Agreement to produce a Diploma Supplement, essentially a transcript which adheres to a pan-Europen format, for all our Undergraduate students. The Dip Supp sets out the individual Degree module grades enabling a much more subtle breakdown of a student’s academic profile. While this will likely become an important tool for assessing postgraduate admissions I’m not sure whether it is yet the tool for employers that it could be. Balanced with this is the likey ignorence of this amongst parents. Like it or not, parents are always a key factor in University selection and arguably even more so with the rise in tuition fees. I would suggest that most parents, as the Tories apparently do, still cannot see much past the honours system and increasingly league tables. So while Warwick is right from an internal University perspective, the UK sector does need to avoid complacency on this issue in the eyes of its stake-holders.
A little view of what we can expect, aside from reduced funding, come next May…
Personally I welcome greater transparency, but not the shrill politicisation of the issue. By all means publish data on University performance, but be realistic on what different Universities are there for.
What does Mandy say on the issue? He does not ‘recognise the committee’s description’ of UK universities. Creep.
Also, as always, poor old Oxford Brookes gets dragged into the debate: ‘There’s a big differnce between Oxford and Oxford Brookes &c. &c.. It’s got to get annoying being constantly dragged into this argument, a situation which is largely due to their geographical location near to the UK’s premier Academy. I’m sure they love it really, all publicity’s good publicity, huh?
Spare a little thought on that front for our friends in Hampshire, who are apparently the premier cause and exponents of terrorist activity in the UK and possibly the world. Well according to these exponents of the noble art of journalism anyway:
The Southern Daily Echo (the published article in the paper was a great deal worse)
More on this bullshit in a future post…