Page last updated at 23:45 GMT, Saturday, 1 August 2009 00:45 UK

Are degree grades worth the same?

Oxford University
Oxford or Oxford Brookes? How do the degrees compare?

MPs investigating the safeguarding of standards in universities in England have reported their concern at a lack of consistency.

And they complained that university leaders could not give a straightforward answer to comparing the relative worth of degrees.

Among the questions pursued by the university select committee was how a degree from one university could be measured against a degree from another.

If the degree grades and the subject were the same, did that mean that these qualifications were equivalent to one another?

This is an important question for students as well as policymakers. If students pay for a course will it be valued as highly as the same course at another university?

Mature students might not have a choice about where to study, so how will they know whether their local university is providing a degree course equivalent to other institutions?

The committee's report quotes the evidence of Victoria Edwards, who said that mature students such as herself might not "have the option of applying to a prestigious university".


"Anybody in my situation, if they are living in Newcastle or Stockport or wherever it is, and they have got their family there and children in schools there, you do not have a choice about which university you apply to, so you need to know that your 2:1 from that university is going to be exactly the same as far as employers are concerned.

"There are lots of reasons why people choose their university and sometimes you do not have a choice."

So the select committee of MPs asked the vice-chancellors of the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University to say whether an upper second class degree in history from the two universities were "equivalent".


Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes, said: "It depends what you mean by equivalent. I am sorry to quibble around the word but is it worth the same is a question that is weighted with too many social complexities.

"In terms of the way in which quality and standards are managed in the university I have every confidence that a 2:1 in history from Oxford Brookes is of a nationally recognised standard."


The report quotes the reply of John Hood, vice-chancellor of Oxford University.

"We teach in very different ways between the two institutions and I think our curricula are different between the two institutions, so the question really is are we applying a consistent standard in assessing our students as to firsts, 2:1s, 2:2s et cetera?

"What I want to say in that respect is simply this, that we use external examiners to moderate our examination processes in all of our disciplinary areas at Oxford, and we take that external examination assessment very, very seriously.

"The external examiners' reports after each round are submitted through our faculty boards, they are assessed and considered by the faculty boards, they are then assessed at the divisional board level and by the educational committee of the university.

This is a process that goes on round the clock annually, so we would be comfortable that our degree classifications are satisfying an expectation of national norms."

So are the two degrees equivalent?

"We found these answers unclear," said the MPs.

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