Students deserve academic justice

The University essay feedback forms, originally designed to facilitate the provision of comments for tutors, have always been a source of amusement. The tick boxes are, quite frankly hilarious.

Yes, I know that 65 and over is acceptable and under 65 is not, but why does an essay deemed acceptable receive numerous ‘needs improvement’ ticks while a frankly appalling essay gets mostly ‘acceptable’s? One Politics student was entirely baffled to discover a completely blank form.

When she contacted the module leader she was told that he had no idea and that he hadn’t marked them: “could be anyone, really.” But he was the only one who taught the module? Apparently, that was not the point. This is not exactly the support one expects when paying £3,000 a year.

we do not expect a free ride but we do expect consistency

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no correlation between good marks and good work. We are told that some modules have different standards and that is just the way it is. Accept it. However, the release of the data surveying degree classifications suggests that this is not just a problem between a few History of Art or Economics modules but an issue spanning all subjects.

As more and more people embark on higher education courses studying increasingly dubious degrees, it is difficult to escape from the fact that a university degree has become devalued. As a young academic body, we are particularly vulnerable to this. Our University must address the disparity between the percentages of people likely to get a particular degree classification if they wish to continue being seen as a reputable institution.

A degree from York should be an achievement. This is impossible if we believe that, for example, as a Music student we are entitled to a top grade or, as a Management student, it is quite unlikely that we will ever achieve a 2.1.

Hes Hall will probably point to differences in the standards of students and accuse departments of marking either too easily or too firmly. The finger will be pointed at us for expecting too much, for being greedy, and for feeling we deserve that top grade. However, this is not the case. We do not expect a free ride but we do expect consistency and fairness. At the moment, the University of York fails to offer us both.

Perhaps the real issue is that we no longer trust the University to be on our side. Recent examination issues (and the lack of action) has only confirmed this. How are we expected to trust departments when they give us an unexpected exam and tell us to just get on with it? As members of this institution, we have rights and it is time that we demanded them and the University started respecting these.


  1. 25 May ’10 at 2:20 pm

    Politics Course Rep

    Thank you for highlighting this issue. I am currently running a campaign to improve feedback in the Politics Department. We are collecting comments from students and also examples of feedback forms. If you would like to get involved please see the facebook group:

    It would be extremely helpful if any politics students would be willing to give us anonymous copies of their feedback forms (both good and bad quality feedback – it helps us identify problems and best practice models) – if you pop in to the YUSU reception (James College) they can make a copy of your feedback form (with the candidate numbers blocked out). We really need these examples to back up our recommendations and help us identify the key issues.

    If you would like any further information or to raise an issue in private please email either myself (go506) or Charlie Leyland (YUSU academic affairs – [email protected])

    Many thanks,

    Graeme Osborn

    2nd Year Politics Course Rep
    Social Sciences Faculty Rep

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  2. Frankly, I am hugely upset at the sweeping generalisations made in this comment. To state that “there is no correlation between good marks and good work” and that this is “an issue spanning all subjects.” is an enormous slur upon all the people who mark weekly problems.

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  3. The problem is the external examiners are examining the universities own stated standards… they therefore might as well not exist and the universities might as well be examining themselves.

    We need nationally set standards on what defines 1sts 2.1s 2.2s 3rds etc. No more of this rubbish of, well a 1st from York looks slightly better to employer than a 1st from Leeds. Such perceptions are based on a notion of trust but also the problem in principle that there are no national disciplinary standards when it comes to grading as there is for secondary education. This issue creates as much internal inconsistency within institutions (seen in this article) as well as causing social mobility issues for graduates leaving from certain universities.

    Give us a national bar for students to reach to get a 1st in say politics.

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  4. @QAA.. ‘no more of this rubbish of well a 1st from York looks slightly better to employers than a 1st from Leeds’- this isn’t really to do with the issues of marking within universities.. as I see it, a 1st from York is considered better than a 1st from Leeds because York is a more reputable institution. What the hell would the point be in working your ass off to get to a more reputable uni. if your 1st was then to be considered equal to that of someone who went to a uni. that was easier to get in to and gave easier workloads?

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  5. I agree with Cami. We should get standardisation within and across departments but universities themselves should be free to choose what those standards are.

    If there was a blanket, “national bar” then it would either be set too high, meaning that many students would be unable complete their degrees, or, it would be set too low, meaning there will be many students who are insufficiently challenged.

    The system we have now, where we are streamed according to our ability (or at least by our A level results) works well precisely because those who have the higher results (and are supposedly more intelligent) will attend universities with higher standards where they can be stretched. Those students who cannot achieve high grades at A level can still go to university and improve their knowledge etc. but at a standard more appropriate for them. This is fine as long as league tables exist to provide a level of transparency about the differing standards across universities. University is beneficial to everyone, not just because it may/may not improve one’s job prospects but for personal development.

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  6. @exactly From an economic perspective, why should tax payers have to fund university education for non-academic students just attending for “personal development”?

    While not especially pc, it seems as though university education should
    return to what it was designed to be: for the best and the brightest.

    Perhaps those not interested in academia but merely hoping to fill three years of their lives with going out and joining societies would better use their time (and our money) in apprenticeships or on alternative higher education courses.

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  7. @Melba I agree with you to a certain extent. However, the problem is that ‘brightness’ is difficult to measure and someone may get poorer A level results, thereby forefeiting there chances to get into a top uni, or if we take your comment to its logical conclusion, no university at all, because they went to a poorer school or because they were raised in a family less supportive of education or whatever. university could be their chance to excel and show themselves to be just as bright as those who achieved top results at school. I realise that that is a somewhat different argument and problem but I think it is a relevant consideration. Having university places available for those who do not receive top A level results will, I think, play a part in evening out the effects of social inequality.

    I do agree that apprenticeships and other vocational qualifications should be available alternatives. As someone who is about to graduate and is, as expected, finding that my degree does not qualify me for a graduate job, I am beginning to wonder why I didn’t do one myself.

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