Cambridge may change to American grade system

Will Bennett 28 January 2018

Cambridge could be set to discard the current grade system in favour of an American style Grade Point Average.  The proposition is the result of the widespread concern of UK academics with the vast grade inflation students have experienced in the last twenty-five years.

This comes not many years after Lord Willetts, the former universities minister, called for a national test of the GPA system, fearing that the system in the UK has become obsolete. The North American system has already been trialled in more than 20 universities in the UK. Universities UK announced that the finding of a report last year showed that 27 percent of universities were already considering the switch.

Employers are finding it increasingly difficult to choose between graduates across the country, as three quarters are now graduating with a 2:1 or first.  Students graduate with a mark between 0 and 4, expressed to three significant figures.  This mark differentiates students more and is a result of constant testing over the course of a degree.  The UK currently places its emphasis on modules in a student’s final year.

Professor Graham Virgo, pro-vice chancellor at Cambridge has labelled the current system a “blunt tool” and suggested that the input of the Office for Students would be necessary to effect real change.  He clarified that the possibility of a “hybrid system” is being explored rather than “just ditching the traditional”. 

GPA or not, The Telegraph reported that the OfS is looking into the option of creating “sector agreed standards” for the distribution of degrees.

Professor Virgo made headlines recently for defending the University from accusations of artificial grade inflation, commenting that "we do not necessarily need to say that grade inflation is a bad thing. We have analysed it and the evidence is that students are working harder.