Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents


Memorandum 113

Letter from Professor Michael Arthur, Vice-Chancellor, University of Leeds to the Chairman following the oral evidence session on 6 May 2009

  I am writing to you as chair of the Innovation, Universities, Science & Skills Committee to put the record straight with respect to oral evidence given by Dr Gavin Reid on 6 May 2009.

Dr Reid's evidence included the following (taken from the uncorrected transcript):

    "Where in my institution it falls down is that the QAA only sees what the university management puts in front of it. I will give you an example: my university runs what has been described as a very perverse model for classifying degree schemes, and it was my external examiner who called it perverse. What happens is that low marks between 0 and 20 are rounded up to 20 and high marks from 80 to 100 are rounded downwards, and then they are averaged together, so you have this non-linear average before making a classification. That comment about this being perverse was fed through the system up to what they call the Learning and Teaching Board, but then it reached a dead-end. I know for a fact that the QAA never saw these comments from the external examiners."

  Dr Reid seems to be suggesting that the University of Leeds deliberately kept the QAA in the dark about the comments made by an external examiner in Chemistry. This is simply not the case.

  The facts are as follows.

  During our institutional audit the QAA auditors were given access to all external examiners' reports and the University and school responses to them, including relevant minutes. We would emphasise in particular that the QAA auditors were sent—in advance of their visit, and at their own request—copies of the minutes of our Learning and Teaching Board and of our Senate. It is our assumption that these minutes would have been read in full by the auditors.

  The minutes of the Board's meeting on 31 October 2007 include the following:

    "The Board noted the concerns raised by the Faculty of Mathematics and Physical Sciences relating to the University's classification system and grading scales, following comments by three External Examiners in the School of Chemistry. Following a lengthy discussion and a specific proposal from a member of the Board it was agreed that the current arrangements for classifying students and the use of University grading scales should continue to be used by all Schools for the time being at least: the process of degree classification and associated grade scales would be considered as part of a wider debate assessing the ramifications of the Burgess Report."

  The minutes of the subsequent Senate (on 21 November 2007) in turn included the following:

    "The [Learning and Teaching] Board had noted the concerns raised by the Faculty of Mathematics and Physical Sciences relating to the University's classification system and grading scales, following comments by three External Examiners in the School of Chemistry, a matter which had also been raised at the Senate (see SM 07/15). Following a lengthy discussion and a specific proposal from a member of the Board, it had been agreed that the current arrangements for classifying students and the use of University grading scales should continue to be used by all Schools for the time being at least. The process of degree classification and associated grade scales would be considered as part of a wider debate assessing the ramifications of the report of the Universities UK Steering Group on Measuring and Recording Student Achievement (known as the Burgess Report).

    The matter was raised again by a member of the Senate. In response, reference was made to the necessity of having in place a system which ensured parity across all disciplines; reassurances were given that students were not disadvantaged by the current system; and emphasis was placed on a review of this matter taking place as part of the wider debate and a comprehensive review envisaged following the publication of the Burgess Report."

  There was therefore complete transparency and integrity in the University's approach to the audit; we did not seek to hide anything from the auditors.

  I should be grateful if you could make copies of this letter available to all members of the select committee and also ask that it forms part of the formal record of your proceedings.

  I am copying this letter to Dr Reid for reasons of transparency.

  If you require any further information or clarification, I would be more than happy to provide it.

May 2009






 
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