Magazine article Times Higher Education

Stalled Progress on GPA May Benefit from National Push: News

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Stalled Progress on GPA May Benefit from National Push: News

Article excerpt

Informal group admits reform requires more work than previously thought. Elizabeth Gibney reports.

A "national debate" about replacing the UK's honours degree classifications with US-style grade-point averages is under way as plans by a group of universities to introduce the GPA model struggle to gain momentum.

The first high-profile push to introduce GPA in the UK came in 2011 from a group mainly made up of Russell Group universities, but progress since then has been slow.

University College London had hoped to launch a pilot in 2012-13 with a view to adopting the GPA system this autumn. However, Anthony Smith, UCL's vice-provost for education, told Times Higher Education that the pilot is now unlikely to run before 2014-15.

Paul White, pro vice-chancellor for education at the University of Sheffield, who took over from UCL's Michael Worton as head of the informal GPA working group in January last year, said that its members had been busy modelling how UK marking schemes would map on to a GPA system.

But it had become clear that rather than a conversion exercise, adopting GPA would require a rethink of assessment and extensive training for staff.

"We're looking two to three years down the line if we want a fully worked- out system introduced in a robust fashion," he added.

Last month, Oxford Brookes University announced its own plans to introduce a GPA system alongside honours degrees.

However, Professor White said that the way the institution had gone it alone was "not generally thought to be helpful" by the group. He added that Oxford Brookes' leaders "haven't gone all the way. They're doing a conversion job from the classification system, and haven't trained staff in using a different structure. In a sense they've jumped the gun."

Let's talk it over

Meanwhile, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has asked the Higher Education Academy to broker a "national debate" on the system and whether it should be developed across the UK.

Benefits of the GPA system - which calculates an average of student scores, usually marked on a scale from zero to 4.0 - are thought to include eliminating the "cliff edge" of degree classifications, encouraging students to work throughout their degrees and increasing international recognition. …

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