Durham introduces ‘achievement reports’ to sharpen up “blunt” degree classifications

By Matt Lee

Durham University is to begin issuing ‘Higher Education Achievement Reports’ (HEARS) to students beginning their studies this year. It joins 104 other higher education institutions who have drawn up plans for the immediate introduction of HEARS.

The report, which will be awarded in addition to a degree classification, provides a breakdown of academic grades in addition to tracking the extra-curricular achievements of students as they progress through university.

Although the report has a maximum length of six pages it can contain a diverse range of information about an individual student and their course. Previous HEARS have listed positions of responsibility and volunteering work as well as details about the course’s method of assessment and programme requirements.

This year’s student intake will be able to talk to the University about any changes or updates to their HEAR throughout their degree course. However, once they graduate, the record can no longer be altered.

The existing system of degree classification has remained virtually unchanged for over 200 hundred years. However, the system has been labelled a “blunt instrument” and has garnered criticism in recent years for perceived “grade inflation”. The last decade has seen a 50% increase in the number of students getting a first and two-thirds of all students gained a first or 2:1 in 2011.

Professor Robert Burgess, chairman of a steering group tasked with driving through the reforms, claims the existing system did not provide “enough detail for student employers” and that the introduction of HEARS would curtail the “damaging obsession with first and upper second class degrees”.

He went on to comment: “Universities have recognised for some time that a single degree classification cannot do justice to the range of skills, knowledge and experience students gain during their time in higher education.

“The HEAR is designed to encourage a more sophisticated approach to recording students’ achievements in the 21st century”.

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, has already added his support, and Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, praised the new system for reforming a “really blunt instrument” and addressing the problem of graduates “exaggerating… what they have achieved”.

An example Higher Education Achievement Report can be downloaded here.

Photograph: Durham University

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