What do Damien Hirst, Attila the Hun, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Hurd have in common?

The British undergraduate degree classification system is one that many students find frustrating and arcane. With its peculiar marking system that rarely extends above 80/100, many people have been calling for it to be scrapped. But what would improve it both for employers and for students?

During the 2010/11 graduation year, 6% of students received a third, 28% a 2:2, 50% a 2:1 and 15% a First. This spread across the classifications is demonstrative of the results of full time students at British universities over the past 10 years. But it raises two very important questions:

The first is that of the mark scheme that defines where you sit in the classification system. With most of the component parts of degrees being marked out of 100, yet with the top 20 marks of that grading system rarely being used, why do we not alter the mark scheme to suit the outcome figures? This would mean that a first would be 85 and above, catering for the top 15% of students. It would mean that British degree marks would make a lot more sense, be a lot easier to understand for those unfamiliar with the system and would ease comparison with foreign grades. It would also avoid that awkward moment explaining why you “only got 68” on your essay to parents and grandparents. This is the system currently used by the straightforward and no nonsense Open University and is one that would ease a little of the frustration in not even being able to attain anywhere approaching full marks

The biggest question however, even upon adopting this sort of system would be the problem of the 2:1 classification. Even though the second class degree is already divided into two sections, the 2:1 alone accounts for 50% of all graduates. The upper portion of the second class grade is described by some as being the most important for it is often the level at which employers choose new recruits. How many times have we seen the “2:1 and above” criteria on a job spec?

But as we all know the difference between someone earning a 68 or 69 and someone coming in at 60-61 is colossal and often leaves students that have strove for high achievement feeling cheated, being classified in the same bracket as those who have achieved considerably less.  The reasons for this centre mainly around the fact that it naturally represents the average student, but also that lecturers and examiners, in the knowledge that employers often do not look kindly on anything below a 2:1 and under increasing pressure from employability and careers officers, feel pushed to award marks in the 2:1 brackets to their students.

All in all, it is far too often the case that students, whether emerging from their university years at the top or bottom end of the system, feel that it is a long way off being perfect. The main thing to remember is that, to a certain extent, the final exact figure that you come out with is dependent on a great deal of other external factors outside of your control and so whether you come out with a Damien, an Atilla, a Desmond or a Douglas, try not to get too frustrated with the establishment.