University reports are not the way forward

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Thirty universities will soon begin trialling a system of accreditation which aims to create detailed accounts of students’ achievements throughout their higher education courses. These files, to be known as Higher Education Achievement Reports (HEARs) will detail accomplishments in areas outside academic achievement such as sports, societies, music and clubs.

The idea comes in response to an increase in the number of graduates achieving First Class Honour and Upper Second Class Honour degrees and a consequential lack of distinction between job applicants. Is it really possible for an academic qualification to be revolutionised in order to show extra-curricular achievement? York is not part of the initial trialling group and I believe that this decision was made with good sense.

Today 70 per cent of graduate recruiters use the 2:1 classification as a cut-off point when browsing through applications. The problem facing today’s employers and students alike is that too many people are achieving a 2:1 or above, with a marked 10 per cent increase in students achieving upper second class honours and first class honours, and 73 students on average competing for each job. Either degrees are getting softer or students are getting brighter, but things cannot go on as they stand without chaos on the job application front line.

Universities accessing achievements outside academic courses, however, seems to be a dangerous move. The university qualification should be based upon academic accomplishment in a given subject. A degree, is after all, a certificate of higher education. Activities outside the academic course should without a doubt be recognised, but could be included within a CV or Cover Letter. One outstanding issue would be how the University would recognise each individual achievement for any particular executive role or commitment to a certain activity. A student may have performed beyond the call of duty of their specific role and, in a CV, can discuss just how responsible and committed they truly were – a difficult achievement to define in a HEAR. With this in mind, the levels of responsibility are likely to differ.

A further issue to consider is the relation between specific activities and employment opportunities. A position on the Physics Society may not immediately appeal to an advertising agency, while an individual’s description of what they achieved on the committee, including perhaps publishing leaflets and promotional activities, would. Employers often view what a student has learnt from an experience outside of academic life and how this extra-curricular education has raised employability prospects. These individual accounts can only be written with accuracy by the student concerned; a member of University staff would be hard pushed to fully express the learning experiences of each individual to their full credit – which is another reason that a description of activities and responsibilities on a personal CV would be more appropriate.

A six page file on a university career would not be an adequate solution for employers wishing to distinguish between high achieving graduates. A certificate which represents the attainment of a degree ought to represent what it is and what it is alone. GCSE certificates never detail school football team victories and A–Level qualifications come on single sheets of paper, announcing the attainment of a certain level of education. If too many students are achieving top grades, perhaps the moderating of marks is what needs to be taken into consideration, not how extra-curricular activities are presented.

By combining “University Life” together in a six page booklet we are in effect undermining a hard-earned educational qualification which should stand for itself.

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