More and more pass their exams: Percent of failing grades hits record low at University of Oslo
The percent of flunking grades at the University of Oslo has gradually dropped since the quality reform of 2003 was introduced. Is better follow-up the reason or has it become easier to pass the exams?
“I found it a bit too easy to pass a class I attended, in English grammar. Seeing how difficult the subject is, it was easier than I’d thought,” says Henrik Brandeggen, who is a student at the teaching program at the University of Oslo (UiO). In 2002 the percent of flunking grades at UiO was on 12.2 percent, and it has continued to drop since then. In 2009 it hit a record low on 6.2 percent.
Fewer failing grades, more money
Kristian Gundersen, professor at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences (MatNat), thinks that one of the reasons for the many passes is the economical incentives in the quality reform, that rewards the university on how many students pass their exams.
“I am worried that the bar is now too low. Flunking people is not nice, and it takes some courage to maintain strict, academic standards when you have economical incentives for letting people pass,” says Gundersen.
He does, however, think that the percent numbers for MatNat, that are relatively stable both before and after the reform, can be an example of how better observation can have contributed to the low percent of flunking grades.
“We haven’t changed the teaching methods that much, unlike other faculties,” says Gundersen.
A focus on finishing
Kim Kantardjiev, studies responsible in the Student Parliament’s working committee, is happy that the quality reform led to a better observation of the students. He thinks the reform’s focus on finishing has contributed to lowering the percent of flunking grades, but he refuses to speculate on the claim that it is now easier to pass your exam.
“I think we should be careful with speculating on whether the examiners let people pass, or not. I don’t think it’s all that widespread at UiO, but there is no doubt that the financing deal stimulates a reasoning that everyone should pass,” says Kantardjiev.
Decrease in all of the country
Also in the rest of Norway has the percent of flunking grades gone down. At the University of Bergen (UiB) the percent has dropped by 6 percent since 2002.
Marianne Aasen, leader of the Storting’s Education, Research and Church Affairs committee, is happy for the low numbers, and agrees with Kantardjiev that better observation is an important reason.
“I was a student myself in the 80s and 90s, and at that time there was no focus on results and on getting people through their studies. Earlier everyone walked around and didn’t talk to any supervisors, and that, of course, influenced the results. Nowadays we have a closer observation on each student,” says Aasen.
Torbjørn Grønner, section chief at UiO, thinks the modulation in the quality reform, which ensured smaller subjects with examinations each semester, has provided a drop in the percent of flunking grades.
“The professional level has not dropped, but to go through has become easier since we now have smaller units. We have no indications on that the demands are lower. If more students passed with a low grade in stead of failing, there would have been many more with bad grades. It isn’t like that, though,” says Grønner.
In 2002, the percent of flunking grades was 32.2, yet in 2009 it was 11.1 percent.
Ragnar Braastad Myklebust at the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas thinks that the alteration to seminar teaching is the main reason for the drop of the percent of flunking grades.
“There are more flunks in the self-study variant than the seminar variant. In the seminar variant there are practically no flunks. The introduction of the seminars with special teacher follow-ups and help with the essay writing is basically what makes the percent of flunking grades go down,” says Myklebust.
He warns the students against taking their exams too lightly.
“A good deal of students flunk on the multiple choice test. And the students who think they will pass after reading the repetition pamphlet, might get an uncomfortable surprise,” says Myklebust.