“They are letters, they don´t have meaning”

“They are letters, they don´t have meaning”

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“A A, B B, C C, D D, E E” is the explanation offered by the University for their new grading system. It can be added to the transcript of records. Since December 2011, five different grading styles can be found within Lund University. An official conversion table is not provided.

‘Väl godkänd’, ’Fem’, ‘Med beröm godkänt’ and ‘A’ all want to say: Passed with distinction. And all of these ways to express that, is what Ida Anderson sees when she looks at her transcript of records. Ida is former Master student of Media and Communication in Lund and she has been graded after four different grading systems.

“I took different classes in different faculties and they have different ways of evaluation.”

A lot of students might make a similar discovery in their transcripts; especially since last year. Sweden decided to abolish the ECTS grading system since the European Commission no longer proposed it. The decision on the grading scale was left to the Universities. Lund University, LU, came up with its own style: A system that looks like ECTS grates but is not.

Daniel Huledal, Director of the Degree Office at Lund University, explains: “F is failed; E means you fulfilled all course goals but nothing more.”

Every next letter up to A expresses a bit more engagement in relation to the specific course goals. The difference to the ECTS- system is that the outcome is no longer evaluated relatively to the general class performance.

The initiative for such a system came from the Economics Department. A convoked group of three faculty representatives, one student, one person from the Center of Education and Development and one from the Degree Office evaluated the idea and proposed it to the University Board. Since spring term 2012 this style is one of five possible grading systems at Lund University.

“To understand our decision, someone has to look at Swedish tradition,” says Huledal.

In Sweden grades are a sensible topic. Who and how should someone be allowed to evaluate people´s performances? Competition between scholars is not regarded desirable.

The Swedish traditional grading system reflects this. It is divided into three categories: Passed with distinction (VG), Passed (G) and Failed (U). Some disciplines, like Medicine and Social Work just divide into fail and passed. The Law and the Technology faculty divide historically performances into four, which is accepted in their disciplines throughout Sweden.

The decision of the European Commission to establish a European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) in 2004 to simplify student mobility within Europe demanded adjustment. Parallel to the traditional grades students got an ECTS evaluation, if it was requested.  But in 2009, a new ECTS-guideline was published, which no longer proposed the ECTS grading system. The argumentation was simple: We tried it, but it did not work out.

ECTS disappeared from the agenda, but the high presence of international Master-programmes in Lund demanded a more specified grading scale than VG and G.

Daniel Huledal says: “We felt, that our students expected us to deliver a new accurate system.”

Different Faculties established this new system as their future one and only, like the Faculty of Social Sciences, with some exceptions. Marjorie Spangler from the Social Sciences Student Union says:

“Our Union never approved of the new system noting a lack of research on the pedagogical effects of such a change.”

The first confused voices were raised during the last year. Especially for International Students it is not really clear what their new grades mean and how they are transferable. Often they are just treated as general ECTS grades. While you might have got a VG and in ECTS an A for the first term, you might have gotten just a B within the new style for the second term, while your performance stayed the same.

It gets complicated if you have to explain these differences to a potential employer or the home university. Some of the other departments therefore decided against the system and work to keep the Swedish system, like the Humanities and Theology Union (see Interview) or the LUMES programme. Hence, the original problem remains too.  Cecilia Fischer, LUMES Student, says:

“I apply for companies in Germany. How can I compete with graduates showing excellent results in a scale of five, while my transcript just says VG?”

Richard Stenelo, from External Relations at LU is also complaining on the fact that the conversion is difficult and the given description is very poor.

“We have to explain a lot to partner universities what each grade means”, says Stenelo.

An official conversion table is missing, even within the grading scales of Lund University.  Neither the transcripts of records nor the diploma supplement of disciplines with the new grading style offer a definition of the grades. Daniel Huledal says:

“They are letters, they don´t have meaning.”

But he admits that for a working evaluation, a further explanation is necessary.

Nevertheless the problem of transformation will remain complicated:

“Every country has its own tradition, some have five different grades, some even eleven. Therefore we have coordinators who can communicate these differences between universities.”

Read also:

The union at the humanities and theology department has stopped the implementation of the new grade system: “New grading system untenable”

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