Abolishing public Class Lists won’t solve Cambridge’s competitiveness problem

Amelia Oakley 2 April 2016

The University has begun the process of moving towards the total abolition of public class lists, after years of back-and-forth over whether maintaining 'tradition' and 'accountability' is more important than the various ways student welfare is impacted by the publicising of Tripos results, marking success for the 'Our Grade, Our Choice' campaign.

The decision, though accompanied by the standard level of meaningless outrage that any change to 'University tradition' brings, is a relatively uncontroversial one, with only one college voting against it. We can all agree that class marks are a poor indicator of actual achievement: exam grades fail to take into account personal circumstances, and someone who has put effort into getting a 2:2 should feel as proud of their grade as someone who has put the same effort into getting a First.

Looking at your own result as a measure of progress and not skill is difficult enough, and having the ability to see others' grades and knowing that they can see yours makes it almost impossible. On top of this, publically naming students can present risks in any context, to students who go by names other than  those stated in University records; this is a reason why the University trans campaign 'Make No Assumptions' has supported the 'Our Grade, Our Choice' campaign. Suggesting that tradition is more important than the welfare of current students — or that accountability is best ensured through publically displaying information instead of just making it accessible — is both incorrect and unfair.

But public class marks are a symptom, not the real disease. Cambridge is characterised by an atmosphere of competition that is perfectly epitomised in the ability to see the culmination of other people's academic years whether they want you to or not. Taking steps towards removing public class marks is a decision that most of us will gladly welcome, but the University can only prove that it truly cares about the adverse impact public class lists have on students if it examines the other supposedly harmless aspects of Cambridge life that demonstrate this over-valuation of academic success.

Scholars' ballots for accommodation, college staff that see mental health struggles as primarily problematic due to their impact on academics, meetings with senior tutors to explain low grades at the start of the year; the impact our academic lives have on the practicalities of living in Cambridge and our overall welfare is a negative one for too many of us. The abolition of public class marks will also bring about the end of the Tompkins Table, which will be a good first step towards ending the arbitrary and flawed competition between colleges with regards to academics, but this must be followed through on an individual level by tutors, supervisors, and Directors of Studies in order to ensure that every student is able to get the best education possible by focusing on their own personal progress rather than arbitrary measures of success.

By abolishing public class marks, the university has taken a step towards allowing students to thrive in Cambridge on their own terms. But its impact will only be worthwhile if it is the first step of many more.