Proposed degree overhaul to impact first year students

Photo credit: aldisley

Photo credit: aldisley

The University is considering introducing a reports scheme that could supplant the traditional honours grading system.

The reports scheme, HEAR, an acronym for the Higher Education Achievement Reports, would directly affect this year’s first year students, should the University decide to join the scheme next year, as they have indicated they might.

The University explained its decision to examine implementing the scheme, stating: “We will monitor its impact in other universities and will consider introducing it next year”.

But a spokesperson confirmed they would postpone the implementation of the scheme this year: “We have discussed this thoroughly with student representatives and don’t believe that students will be disadvantaged by this.

However, the reports scheme will refine the way in which degrees will be graded, and aims to improve graduate employability. Under the scheme, students would be awarded ‘reports’ throughout their studies, detailing both their academic progress and their extracurricular activities and achievements, allowing future employers more information on a student’s qualifications.

Nationally, students starting this year would be the first to come under the initiative, under recommendations from the body operating the reports scheme. Should the University decide to follow the scheme, first-year students would be the first York students to graduate under the change.

However, the decision is dependent upon an electronic system for diploma supplements being in place. Presently, the system is operated manually, and in a piecemeal fashion, as not all degrees require the diploma supplement.

The decision to move to an electronic system, and therefore the reports scheme, is dependent upon discussions by relevant University staff to determine the actions and ascertain the funding required to implement the scheme.

Both the National Union of Students (NUS), and the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), have helped in the development of the scheme.
Professor Robert Burgess, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, chair of the group leading the scheme, has stated that he feels the scheme could in time come to supplant the traditional grading of degrees, replacing the present grading system of firsts, seconds, and thirds.

Burgess stated: “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.”

The reports scheme would consist of an electronic document, produced by the University, with YUSU’s input, providing a record of a student’s achievements at university. Students would be able to access their reports throughout their academic career, and it would be updated regularly. Significantly, it would follow a standard template in order to ensure consistency across the country.

Kallum Taylor, YUSU President, said: “We warmly welcome anything that will go towards a recognition of a student’s wider skills and experiences. It’s so competitive out there, so any edge that York graduates can obtain over others, which is formally recognized, can only go to our students advantage.”

The crucial factor of the scheme is section 6.1. This section records and verifies student participation outside of academic study, providing accredited additional information to future employers about a student’s range of skills and experience.

However, the University already runs a scheme which is similar in its aims, the York Award, which is entering its twelfth year and which was the first of its kind in the country.

A spokesperson from the University’s Careers Service said: “The Careers team are keen to develop the York Award further so that more students can have access to its advantages. We plan to do this in a way that will help us support the HEAR, but will also stand alone, so that York students will benefit whatever the University decides to do.”

The scheme released a report which states that information and accreditation would be “authorised and stewarded by the awarding institution responsible for the information,” containing only information and achievements that have been “verified and validated by the institution, or by an authorised, trusted third-party organisation”.

The information that would be contained in section 6.1 would most likely consist of a student’s extracurricular activities, such as societal involvement or sporting contributions, a component of student life presently overseen by YUSU.

However, should the scheme go ahead it would be overseen by the University, rather than YUSU. The Careers Service explained the likelihood of such a decision as a result of already having the infrastructure, for example the student records system, which would only need to be built upon, rather than started from nothing.

Graeme Osborn, YUSU Academic Officer, said: “I believe the University is making the right decision to consider developing the HEAR.

“Only time will tell how effective the HEAR will be, but anything that gives employers and other higher education institutions more information about the achievements of our graduates is a good thing. As it is those students starting this year who would be the first to receive the HEAR the university has three years to put the systems in place to produce it; I believe that should be more than enough time.”

Taylor finished by saying that he hoped YUSU would be “meaningfully involved” in the development of the scheme at York.

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