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New report proposes GPA degrees scale for the UK

UK universities are being encouraged to adopt a new international-style grade point average (GPA) scheme alongside traditional degree classifications.

A GPA scale should be introduced to give graduates and employers a more detailed and accurate picture of how individuals performed throughout their studies, a new report says.

A GPA Advisory Group, led by Professor Sir Bob Burgess, formerly Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, was set up to oversee a GPA pilot in 2013-14. It recommends that GPA should run for a trial period of five years alongside the honours system of first, upper second (2:1), lower second (2:2) and third class degrees.

Universities can decide

During this period of ‘dual running’, institutions would be free to decide whether, when and how to introduce GPA. This approach will give them an opportunity to monitor the impact of the changes. Some may eventually opt to switch to using GPA alone.

There should be a national review of the adoption of GPA within five years, says the Advisory Group’s report, Grade Points Average: Report of the GPA Pilot Project 2013-14, published on its behalf by the Higher Education Academy (HEA).

Its recommendations are based on the results of the GPA Pilot Project, which was created to find a more precise way of grading degrees than the present system.

Benefits for students and employers

A group of 21 institutions from across the UK, including six from the Russell Group, two colleges of further and higher education and a private university, modelled the introduction of a GPA system using data from previous students’ performance.

The Advisory Group’s report on the pilot concludes that GPA would give students a more precise and internationally recognisable measure of their academic achievement. Since a GPA provides a cumulative score, it could also boost student motivation and engagement throughout their studies, and help employers searching for prospective recruits by offering more detailed information at an earlier stage.


An agreed scale of average marks

Based on the results of testing during the pilot, the report recommends the introduction of a scale of average marks from 0 to 4.25 corresponding to grades from F- to A+. Graduates of universities that choose to introduce dual running will be awarded both a degree classification and a GPA. The report stresses the importance of establishing an agreed common scale across the sector.

The report recommends a more flexible system than the GPA scores used by universities in the United States, which are an average of all marks awarded. As autonomous organisations, universities will be able to decide how to calculate GPA including, for example, whether to disregard marks for the first year of a degree and give greater weighting to more demanding final year modules, as most do at present. However, the report clearly recommends that the sector should strive to achieve a universal approach to GPA.

Professor Sir Bob Burgess, Chair of the GPA Advisory Group, said: “GPA offers an important opportunity to meet the vital need for a more precise indicator of degree grades and to provide students with a more internationally recognisable measure.

“Our recommendations have been carefully constructed to build upon the evidence from the sector regarding the appetite and capacity for change. A process of ‘dual running’ will allow institutions to adopt GPA within timescales that suit their institutional context whilst ensuring that a national system is retained.”

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, said: “A move to GPA is a positive step. Employers will value the greater granularity in the marking structure whilst students will benefit from a fairer representation of their grades.”

Professor Sir Bob Burgess
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