Edinburgh University to introduce US degree system

In the future, graduates could be receiving a Grade Point Average qualification. Picture: Ian Rutherford
In the future, graduates could be receiving a Grade Point Average qualification. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THE days of Scotland’s traditional honours degree system look to be numbered after the Capital’s leading university took a first step towards introducing an American system.

Long a staple of student banter, rhyming slang expressions such as the “Geoff Hurst”, “Attila the Hun” and “Desmond Tutu” – used to refer to first, 2:1 and 2:2 honours degrees – could be consigned to the dustbin if Edinburgh University’s radical pilot of the Grade Point Average (GPA) system is successful.

The new system – used in the US and numerous other countries – differs from its Scottish counterpart in offering multiple gradings for each of the honours classifications of first, upper second, lower second and third class.

GPA also relies on averaging grades achieved throughout a student’s course instead of end-of-year exams.

It is understood GPA data could be presented to Edinburgh students as a complement to traditional degree classifications if the city pilot is a success – the first time in nearly 200 years that the structure of the honours system would be challenged.

Student leaders said they were intrigued by the pilot but aired concerns that spreading the grading over a year might create new “barriers” for poorer students for whom adjusting to university life could undermine their academic performance.

Robert Foster, vice-president of NUS Scotland, said: “We would have concerns if the introduction of a GPA system was piecemeal, and did not include a range of institutions representing students from different backgrounds. It is also crucial that we look closely at the different ways GPA could be calculated and the potential this might have for throwing up barriers to academic success for students from more deprived communities.”

The UK-wide pilot comes amid fears that the honours system – under which the number of firsts awarded has trebled since the late 1990s – is chronically prone to grade inflation and no longer fit for purpose.

Leaders at the Higher Education Academy (HEA), which is leading the pilot, said the project was of national significance. Professor Sir Bob Burgess, chair of the HEA’s advisory group, said: “This is a hugely important project which will provide evidence for a full debate about degree classification and the possibility of a uniform GPA system in the UK.”

Edinburgh University bosses stressed there were no imminent plans to do away with honours degree awards.

A spokesman said: “We have no plans to replace the existing divisions of degrees, but are exploring alternatives and supplements that might help our students as they move into employment.”

Illustrious alumni

Charles Darwin: Naturalist and author of The Origin of Species

David Hume: Philosopher and leading figure of the Enlightenment

James Clerk Maxwell: Physicist and father of electro-magnetic theory

James Simpson: Pioneer of chloroform in midwifery and surgery

Dr Piers Sellers: Third Briton to go into space in 2002

Stella Rimington: Former MI5 director

Gordon Brown: Former UK Prime Minister

Sir Chris Hoy: Cyclist and Scotland’s greatest ever Olympian

Alexander McCall Smith: World-renowned author of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of novels