From this academic year, students starting at Leicester — and many other universities around the country — will get something extra when they graduate.
As well as their degree classification, they will receive an electronic record that details everything they have learned and achieved while at university. Provided in a standardised format, and including details of which modules students have taken and how they have performed academically, as well as successes and positions of responsibility outside the classroom, the Higher Education Achievement Report, or HEAR, will give a clear view of how individuals have developed overall during their university studies.
Over the past four years, I have Chaired the Steering Group responsible for developing the HEAR. We began trailling it with groups of graduates from 18 universities, but, as word spread, more institutions joined the trial. Now, with endorsement from higher education’s representative bodies – Universities UK and Guild HE — more than half the university sector is actively involved in putting the HEAR in place for their students.
But we want it to be the whole sector. Why? Because, at a time when students are just starting to pay higher fees, the HEAR is a clear example of how universities can give them greater value. It gives them a running record of how they are doing, and where their strengths and weaknesses lie, helping guide discussions with personal tutors and allowing them to chart their progress. It also supports lifelong learning because it records the ongoing process of learning rather than just focussing on a single outcome.
For employers, it offers a clear, easily accessible and verified account of what students have achieved during their university careers, indicating whether, say, they are better at teamwork or individual problem-solving, and therefore makes it easier to compare job applicants and decide where they might best fit in an organisation.
The HEAR is also symbol of what UK HE does best – student-centred and quality- focussed education — and should further boost its reputation in a competitive international market.
It does require better communication and information-sharing between different university departments — from IT services to careers, lecturers to student unions — but this is an advantage as well as a challenge. It means improving student record systems and administration, and gets different parts of the institution talking.
Extensive trialling since 2008 means we have ironed out many issues involved in implementing the HEAR– should we include everything, including low marks and resits regardless of extenuating circumstances? (Yes) Can we make it technologically secure? (Yes) Will the costs be prohibitive? (No) – and we are now confident that it is flexible and robust enough to be introduced in every higher education institution in the UK.
We have long needed a new way of measuring and recording student achievement. While the honours degree is a robust qualification with an international reputation, the classification system alone is no longer fit for purpose in the 21st century. It simply cannot give students, employers and institutions the range and depth of information they need to make the right decisions for their futures. The HEAR, I believe, can.
By Professor Sir Robert Burgess, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester.