Call for change to University of Sheffield marking after hundreds of students lost out on top grades

The University of Sheffield
The University of Sheffield
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A student is calling on the University of Sheffield to alter its marking scheme after hundreds of graduates lost out on top grades.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that more than 600 students who graduated between 2015 and 2017 were not awarded the top grade despite them then scoring the average mark needed because of the way the university awards its final grades.

Harrison Jones

Harrison Jones

And more than 650 graduates missed out on a merit or 2:1 despite gaining the average mark for one, according to the results of the FOI.

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An undergraduate was not given a first class degree despite scoring an average score of 81 - 11 marks higher than the threshold for a First.

And a post-graduate who scored an average mark of a distinction was awarded the lower merit grade.

The University of Sheffield said it uses two calculations systems when awarding degrees to ensure it is reflective of overall performance and does not just take the average score like many other universities.

Harrison Jones, aged 24, graduated with a merit for his Masters in Print Journalism in 2017.

He got an average of 72 - which included the highest mark on his course for his dissertation - but, because he did not get more than 70 in three modules, he was awarded a merit for his degree.

Mr Jones, a journalist, said: "Even if I'd got 100 for my dissertation I still would've got a merit, not a distinction.

"So essentially my whole dissertation was a waste of time and effort and there was no incentive at all for doing well in it.

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"I felt the grade was unfair and not a reflection of what I deserved for the course.

"I also found it baffling that Sheffield would round its students down, when virtually all other universities mark them up."

He appealed the decision but lost and is calling for the university to change its marking scheme or for tutors to use their discretion when marking.

"I realise there has to be a line and criteria but common sense should be applied in my view - university regulations say you can use discretion to up someone's grade, but if that's never invoked then it's essentially a pointless regulation. If you average over a particular grade boundary during the year then you should get that grade," said Mr Jones.

"I think it's disappointing that individuals haven't had the courage to argue for the use of discretion or a change in system, but ultimately the university needs to change its system to make sure students get the grades that accurately reflect their performance. At the moment that's not happening."

Dr Helen Tattam, student information and developments manager at the University of Sheffield, said the university's degree classification regulations ensure that students are awarded the outcome that best reflects their overall performance.

She added: "Two calculations are performed and combined to determine undergraduate degree classifications, rather than simply averaging marks.

"This is to prevent final degree classifications from being unduly skewed by outlying grades, such as a low grade in one particular module.

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"For higher degrees, such as taught postgraduate degrees, merits and distinctions are awarded on a discretionary basis in order to best reflect an individual's general performance.

"Guidance on degree classification is available online to all students throughout their course.”