Bureaucracy over academic rigour?

What is equity? Two students doing modules of the same difficulty in the same year of study? Making sure students progress after completing exactly the same amount of work? Can it be boosted by simplifying administrative procedures on a University-wide basis? As well as maintaining a strong element of choice for students? These are the questions that a university working group on modularisation has tried to answer in its review.

As with all overhauls of this nature, there are casualties: student choice, stress levels, and, perhaps, academic standards.

Some of the recommendations are inevitable and brought about through national and international forces to do with the practices of other universities. Such is the adoption of ‘credit levels’ for all modules so that the overall award can be compared with those from other institutions. The individual departments generally have a system that serves this purpose anyway, but it is not made very open to students. This appears to be one of the least contentious of the recommendations made and is purely a matter of definition.

One of the main casualties of the review, however, would be the 30- and 40-credit modules; the loss of which would perhaps be felt most by those doing multi-disciplinary degrees, who would be likely to see their degree programme shatter into ever-smaller pieces. The report comments that students receive “less teaching” and “fewer opportunities for feedback” in smaller modules; the other sides of the coin presumably being lack of time for independent study and student over-assessment. Later, the true intentions are betrayed as partly administrative, providing more information for student transcripts. Surely the scrapping of larger modules would partly wipe out the administrative gains made through standardising module weights and other measures?

The proposal to progress after 120 credits’ worth of study at the end of the year, completing all assessment, would lead to increased student workload, with students unable to balance their degrees as they chose. Term 6, for example, would include the usual assessment in Weeks 1 and 2 of the work from Terms 4 and 5, but there would also be further assessment in Weeks 9 and 10 for the work completed in Term 6. As well as increasing student workload, would this not also lead to lower standards for certain modules assessed in such periods?

The report’s recommendation to adopt uniform credit levels is commendable, but the proposal to abolish 40-credit modules and introduce uniform progression requirements with equally-weighted years would seem to be bad for most students. The report fails to make a convincing case that these other two recommendations would be positive for all students, and it does seem that they are being argued on largely administrative levels. We would all like simplicity and transparency, but not at the cost of losses befalling future students.

Tom Smith

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