Credit: Alberto G.
Jennifer Bowey

“Entry to honours requirements” is a phrase all too familiar to second year students looking to progress to third year Junior Honours level. The information about what these requirements actually are can seem confusing and misleading at first glance. In fact, most students are required to meet two sets of honours requirements: those of their specific subject, and those of the general university regulations. Unfortunately for the students of Glasgow University, our requirements seem to be set higher than most.

Take English Literature, for instance. In the department’s General Information Handbook, the requirements are set out as follows: “We normally expect you to have taken all four of the Level 1 and Level 2 English Literature courses, to have achieved at very least a Grade D in each of the two Level 1 courses, and to have achieved a minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) of 15.0 in English Literature Level 2, with neither mark falling below C3/12”. Achieving a C3 doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request, but the 15.0 GPA requirement is the problem.

A GPA of 15.0 translates to a B3 or, in degree terms, a 2:1. Having spoken to friends studying English Literature at Strathclyde and Aberdeen University, I have come to discover that other universities’ (including those in the Russell Group) honours requirements for the same subject tend to be significantly lower than those at Glasgow.

Essentially, our university is suggesting that if you cannot achieve an upper second class degree, you do not deserve a degree at all – it is fostering a culture of elimination rathe than of encouragement. Naturally every university wants to have a high percentage of graduates achieving the highest degree marks, but shouldn’t education ultimately be about helping each student to achieve their own potential, rather than what is deemed acceptable by an elite establishment? Is it not important for students to be nurtured rather than discouraged?

One problem with setting such high honours requirements for second year students is that, dependent on what subjects you study, the early years of university are generally far more exam-centric, with very little emphasis placed on coursework. The question of whether or not exams are an appropriate measure of ability has been discussed extensively, however, what further pressurises this already stressful situation is the fact that most honours requirements only take into consideration your first sitting result. Even if you resit and achieve the required grades, you won’t be admitted to honours, at least not without extreme mitigating circumstances.

This heavy emphasis on first sitting results ultimately boils down to whether or not a student will perform to the best of their ability in a two hour window on one specific day. There are innumerable reasons why someone may fail to perform to their true capabilities on exam day, including illness, mental health issues, anxiety, recent emotional trauma and of course the stress of meeting honours requirements. Despite special exam preparations being put in place for some students through the disability service, there are many reasons students are unlikely to perform at their best in an exam situation.

By setting such high honours requirements, the University is essentially disregarding these legitimate, performance affecting circumstances in favour of a ruthless, “one shot” approach – the first sitting rule offers students a single chance to prove their worth. Leaving students with a matter of mere hours to demonstrate what they’ve learnt over the course of months of teaching is nonsensical. One bad exam could prevent hard working, dedicated students from reaching their Honours years and deny them the chance of gaining their degree due to reasons beyond their control.

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