GPA system is “Americanisation of higher education”

Jocelyn Major 15 February 2014

In what a Cambridge academic has termed “the Americanisation of higher education”, 21 British universities are attempting to implement an American Grade Point Average (GPA) system in place of the current grading system from first class to fail.

The move is led by vice chancellor of the University of Leicester, Sir Robert Burgess. Russell Group universities such as Warwick, UCL, York and Bristol are considering the GPA system.

The US grading system calculates a numerical representation of the cumulative standard achieved by the student over their 3 years. Students are assigned a grade A – D for each course. This is then converted into a number and all the numerical values are averaged at the end of the semester. 

However, it has been suggested that the move towards an American system could erode British tradition, particularly in older institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge.

A spokesperson from the University of Cambridge stated that “Cambridge has no plans to change our position over degree classification”, indicating that Cambridge is unlikely to follow the American model. 

Christopher Hill, Head of the Politics and International Studies department at Cambridge, expressed his scepticism for GPA, noting: “I think this GPA reform is a bit like giving academics American titles such as assistant, associate, or full professor. It’s the Americanisation of higher education.

“I don’t think it will do what people are assuming it will do. I don’t think it’s likely to make much of a difference.”

In defence of the GPA, Sir Robert suggested emulating the American grading system could bring a better evaluation of student effort, stating: “While we need accurate assessments, the very sharp divide that has developed between the two degree classes is not helpful.

“If the pilot is successful — and I don’t see why it should not be — reform will gather momentum, so that by the end of this decade I expect all UK universities to have adopted the national GPA model that we are working on.”

The GPA system is currently under discussion by CUSU. CUSU Education Officer Jia Hui Lee suggested: “The verdict on the merits of introducing the GPA into British higher education is still out. I am not convinced that the GPA system is best suited to the University of Cambridge, but it is an issue that CUSU will be taking to Faculty and Academic Representatives.