A lack of ready cash has produced a truly heinous situation at some British universities, or so the Guardian says:
Cash-strapped British universities are awarding degrees to students who should be failed, in return for lucrative fees, The Observer can reveal. The 'degrees-for-sale' scandal stretches from the most prestigious institutions to the former polytechnics and includes undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, foreign and home students. In the most extreme case, The Observer has evidence of a professor ordering staff to mark up students at risk of failing in order to keep the money coming in.
Lecturers at institutions across the country, including Oxford, London and Swansea, told The Observer the scandal is undermining academic standards, but they cannot speak publicly for fear of losing their jobs.
In the most blatant example of the financial pressure to pass failing students, Professor Richard Wynne, head of Bournemouth University's design, engineering and computing department, emailed staff telling them to 'minimise' the number of failures because of a drop in applications.
He wrote: 'I would urge all academic staff involved in marking examinations etc to look very carefully at those students gaining marks in the 30s. If the mark is 38/9 [just below the pass mark] then please, where possible, look for the extra 1/2 marks if appropriate and not leave it to the exam board to make this decision.'
Wynne went on to warn staff of the consequences of failing students. 'I often reduce the problem to one of money. It perhaps brings home the issue at hand when you consider that each student brings an income of approximately £4,500. You can all do the sums as well as me to work out the likely implications for the school.'
If UK universities are really willing to pass shoddy engineering students just because they have the 4500 pounds at hand, it gives new meaning to the nursery rhyme, "London Bridge is falling down/falling down/falling down," doesn't it? It's one thing for Britons to be ignorant of history; it's another thing altogether for them to be creating software and building bridges with just "borderline" knowledge.
Bournemouth University has given Wynne its full backing, claiming that his email simply urges a closer scrutiny of borderline students. 'In fact, he does not ask for a lowering of academic standards. Instead, he advocates - even advises - that colleagues make a learned consideration of each student on merit.'
Why should schools scrutinize borderline students more closely? And why are we being asked to assume that professors had not already been making "a learned consideration of each student on merit"? I doubt that Bournemouth's professors needed Wynne to tell them how to do that.
Colwyn Williamson of the Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards (Cafas), who teaches at Swansea University, said a blind eye was turned to practices ranging from direct plagiarism to lecturers doing their students' work for them, or simply passing work that had not been examined properly.
Well, now we understand why today's undergraduates don't understand what's wrong with plagiarism, or cheating in general. And isn't it ironic that tests are often attacked publicly for allegedly allowing only the rich to pass classes, when a situation in which money really does determine who passes isn't given near as much press?
While these shenanigans may be keeping British colleges afloat, it's certainly not doing much for the rich students who pass through them:
This impression has been passed to the students themselves. Gilbert Cervelli, an American theology and history student who spent six months at Oxford this year for a credit towards his American Bachelor of Arts degree said he received all A grades.'For a majority of my time at Oxford, I wondered if I could write an absolute crap essay and still have my tutor tell me it wonderful just because I was a huge investment. To think that the only reason I was admitted to Oxford University was because I had money and came from America is a rather cynical view, one that I hope is not true.'Posted by kswygert at August 5, 2004 11:03 AM